DOJ backs Michigan businesses against Gov. Whitmer’s ‘arbitrary and irrational’ restrictions

Mary Margaret Olohan, DCNF 

The Department of Justice filed a statement of interest Friday challenging Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “arbitrary and irrational” restrictions on her state’s businesses.

The move came as part of Attorney General William Barr’s efforts to ensure that civil liberties are protected during the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Justice (DOJ) stated in a press release. The statement of interest supports a lawsuit filed by seven Michigan businesses challenging Whitmer’s restrictions.

“The facts alleged suggest that Michigan has imposed arbitrary and irrational limits on Plaintiffs that, if established, could violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” according to the DOJ statement of interest.

“Our Constitution is enduring, and it is critically important that government comply fully with the Constitution in times of crisis,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division in a statement.

He continued: “The Constitution permits appropriate state and local government restrictions to protect the health and safety of Americans, but it does not permit arbitrary limits that limit the right of all people in our country to be treated equally and fairly by the government.”

Whitmer has issued more than 100 executive orders imposing “sweeping limitations on nearly all aspects of life for citizens of Michigan,” according to a DOJ press release, “significantly impairing in some instances their ability to maintain their economic livelihoods.”

Her orders discriminate against businesses and treat them differently, allowing some to remain open while others are forced to close, the lawsuit stated. Plaintiffs include a real estate brokerage, an automotive glass exporter, a lawn and property maintenance company, a jewelry store, an engine oil and auto parts distributor, a dentist’s office and an association of car washes.

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Matthew Schneider said in a statement that though he does not doubt Whitmer’s good intentions, the executive orders “arbitrarily discriminate” by allowing certain businesses to open while others must close.

“And if they refuse, they face fines and possible jail time,” Schneider, who is overseeing DOJ efforts to monitor state and local policies relating to the pandemic, added.

“Under the Governor’s Orders, it’s ok to go to a hardware store and buy a jacket, but it’s a crime to go inside a clothing store and buy the identical jacket without making an appointment,” he said. “That’s arbitrary. As important as it is that we stay safe during these challenging times, it is also important to remember that we do not abandon our freedoms and our dedication to the rule of law in times of emergency.”

Whitmer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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