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Sides trade jabs as lawsuit against Michigan Gov. Whitmer’s COVID-19 handling reaches court

Legislators sue Gretchen Whitmer over executive orders

Lawyers for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and legislators plead their cases to a judge via Zoom.
Lawyers for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and legislators plead their cases to a judge via Zoom. (WDIV)

LANSING, Mich. – The lawsuit filed by Michigan legislators who didn’t like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issuing coronavirus (COVID-19) executive orders without their approval reached the court Friday, and neither side held back.

As Whitmer considers the state’s next moves, the battle over her stay-at-home order played out in court.

“This is about her depriving us of the legislative tools that we would otherwise possess to help manage this pandemic,” said attorney Michael Williams, the lawyer for the Republicans.

But the assistant solicitor general Chris Allen said Whitmer was left without a choice after Republicans blocked an extension of her executive orders.

“That’s, I think, part of the absurdity here,” Allen said. “There’s no dispute that a disaster and emergency exists, yet the legislature withheld.”

Republicans said the laws Whitmer uses to justify her executive orders require legislative approval.

“If the governor could go to the legislature and say, ‘I need extension,’ have the legislature decline such an extension and then nevertheless reinstate the declaration all over again, then the 28-day provision in the Emergency Management Act would be meaningless," Williams said.

Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens repeatedly asked for clarity from Allen.

“Your perception is, so long as she perceives validly or invalidly there is an emergent condition -- she can terminate one order and start another for as long as she deems appropriate and the legislature would have no role, under the EMA to do anything about it?” Stephens asked.

“No, your honor, what I’m saying is, validly or invalidly is the crux of the matter,” Allen said.

Stephens asked if it would be left up to private citizens to challenge the governor’s executive orders.

“If the legislature is right that the governor has this authority, but they can revoke it from her after 28 days with a mere resolution, that creates its own constitutional problems,” Allen said.

“That is probably the worst argument you have,” Stephens said. “Just real honestly, that one’s not going to go very far for me.”

Stephens said the case could end up in Michigan Supreme Court. After a Supreme Court in Wisconsin struck down a stay-at-home order this week, all eyes have turned to Michigan.

We will likely hear from Stephens next week. Whitmer’s current stay-at-home order and state of emergency are in effect until May 28.

Watch Priya Mann’s full story below.


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