LANSING, Mich. – Michigan legislators have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, saying she acted “beyond her authority” when extending the coronavirus (COVID-19) state of emergency, which did not receive backing from Republicans.
“We firmly believe the governor is acting beyond her authority and has left us no choice other than to seek clarification from the courts,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said.
House Speaker Lee Chatfield said the lawsuit was filed due to Whitmer’s “failure to comply with existing state law and for her disregard of the Michigan Constitution.”
“The Legislature did not approve an extension of the state emergency declaration and as such we expected the declaration to end,” Shirkey said. “Instead, we saw the governor ignore the law, unilaterally extend the emergency, and write new executive orders. If left unchecked, the governor could extend her authority indefinitely. Michigan citizens cannot wait that long for a path forward to regain their lives and their livelihoods.”
State Democrats have fired back, calling the move political.
“Let us be abundantly clear: This lawsuit is driven solely by legislative Republicans and has no support from the Senate Democratic Caucus," Michigan Senate Democrats said in a statement. "We are appalled that those across the aisle are choosing a global pandemic as the time to pick political fights with the governor instead of focusing on what we can do to help the people of our state.
“The Senate Democrats aren’t taking their eyes off the ball. Finding solutions for Michigan families and workers remains our number one priority.”
Battle in Lansing
Michigan was under a state of emergency through April 30 that was approved by both the governor and legislators. Whitmer issued an executive order to extend the emergency and also vetoed a bill that would have limited her powers.
“We all know strong action is required to combat COVID-19 and keep our communities safe,” Chatfield said. “But the one-size-fits-all actions the governor has taken simply haven’t been good enough. Local communities have been devastated even in areas where the virus has hardly made an appearance. Thousands of small family businesses have been shut down unnecessarily and with no benefit to the public health, and access to healthcare has been shut off for millions of people who cannot afford to wait any longer. The people we represent need a better plan, and we want to work with the governor to help her do better."
This isn’t the first lawsuit filed against Whitmer over her executive orders. Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Dryden) sued the governor earlier this week, saying her actions violate his constitutional rights.
But Attorney General Dana Nessel backed Whitmer, confirming the executive orders are enforceable by authorities.
Whitmer warned Michigan residents that she’s far from reopening the state. She said she wants to reopen businesses, but much has to happen before any moves to get the economy rolling beyond where it is now.
That’s part of what’s caused the ongoing power struggle in Lansing.
“We extended our hand to the governor last week and offered several times to work with her to improve the state’s response and improve the status quo that is hurting so many people," Chatfield said. "She rejected that offer and chose to go it alone, in a way that is against the law. We have to stand up for the people we represent, their concerns and their legal rights. This lawsuit will bring everyone back to the table and ensure a better, bipartisan solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Republicans filed the lawsuit in the Michigan Court of Claims, but there’s little expectation a judge would end a state of emergency overnight. It’s likely this will end up being appealed.
“I am happy to work with the legislature,” Whitmer said. “Ideally, we can get on the same page, but I cannot negotiate like this is a political issue. We need to listen to the experts, welcome partnership from both sides of the aisle. This needs to be all hands on deck. The enemy is the virus. There has been good work done together.”
Here is a statement from the Michigan Republican Party, on behalf of Chairman Laura Cox:
“Today Majority Leader Shirkey and Speaker Chatfield have taken a stand for the Michigan Constitution and the system of checks and balances our state and nation are built on. No single person, despite their intentions, should be given unilateral power over our state indefinitely. The time has come for the Governor to work with the Legislature to get our state through this crisis. After all, Michigan’s other governors have handled every other crisis in that fashion since our state’s founding.”
Here is a statement from House Democratic Leader Christine Greig:
“The Republican leadership has demonstrated once again that the only thing they have to offer the people of Michigan during this crisis is partisan political theatre, dripping with hypocrisy. As Michiganders are stretching their dollars and worrying about their livelihood in the face of a global pandemic, legislative Republicans are distracting time and attention away from the state’s response to COVID-19 and squandering scarce taxpayer resources in another dubious attempt to undermine efforts to address this unprecedented public health crisis.
“During this public health crisis, there have been real opportunities for Republicans to help the people of Michigan. From the day Republican leadership refused to institute remote participation, a move that would have allowed the legislature to consider legislation to provide relief in the face of COVID-19 weeks ago, Republicans have made it clear that their only agenda is partisan political games, power grabs, and a relentless effort to undermine the governor’s life-saving response to this deadly virus.
“Political antics do not save lives, protect livelihoods, or respond to this crisis. In fact, they put public health and our state’s economy at greater risk. This lawsuit is a waste of time, waste of taxpayer dollars and will set Michigan’s recovery back weeks, if not months. The people of Michigan deserve better.”