Michigan judge rules in favor of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in suit challenging emergency powers

The Michigan Court of Claims has ruled in favor of Governor Gretchen Whitmer in a lawsuit that challenged her authority to issue emergency declarations.

Gov. Whitmer has prevailed in the challenge from Republican lawmakers who sued over her authority to declare emergencies and order sweeping restrictions during the coronavirus outbreak. A judge said a 1945 law cited by Whitmer, a Democrat, is not limited to local and regional emergencies only.

The House and Senate, which are controlled by Republicans, did not extend Whitmer's disaster emergency declaration in late April but she acted anyway.

Republicans have cited a 1976 law that claims governors can only assert an emergency declaration for 28 days. However, Whitmer has rebuked that argument by invoking another emergency powers act that was approved in 1945, which claims governors can declare emergencies for as long as necessary.

Republican lawmakers claimed Whitmer overstepped her constitutional authority in her decisions to continually order declarations of emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic, the underlying provision she has used to issue emergency orders. Whitmer denies those charges, claiming her decision to overrule calls to end the declaration and repeal her executive orders is grounded in her mission to save lives.

Republican leaders promise to appeal the ruling.

“While we are disappointed by aspects of this determination, we are vindicated in our assertion that the Governor acted unlawfully in attempting to extend the states of emergency and disaster under the Emergency Management Act without legislative approval. We are confident in our position and will appeal this ruling,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake.

Michigan Attorney General released a statement lauding the decision and urging the need for state unity rather than in-fighting.

"We’re still reviewing the opinion but I’m pleased that the Court acted quickly to clarify legal issues of significant importance to the people of this State," she said. "With this clarity, it’s my hope that our public officials and residents can move forward with confidence that the Governor has acted in accordance with the authority provided to her under the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act. It’s time for us all to focus on the health and safety of the People in this State rather than fighting against each other in unnecessary legal battles in our courts.”

The GOP formally announced its lawsuit on May 6. In a legal filing submitted by attorneys arguing on behalf of the plaintiffs, they claim the governor has regulated "every aspect of nearly 10 million lives" without input from those individuals or their representatives. 

"No statute or constitutional provision empowers the Governor to declare a statewide, indefinite state of emergency and then rely on the declaration to exercise unfettered lawmaking authority."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.