LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Supreme Court on Friday struck down months of orders by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that were aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus, saying she drew authority from a 1945 law that is unconstitutional.
The decision is an extraordinary development in a monthslong conflict between Whitmer, a Democrat, and the Republicans who control the Legislature and have complained that they’ve been shut out of major orders that have restricted education, the economy and health care.
Coincidentally, the court’s opinion emerged on the same day that Whitmer’s critics submitted more than 539,000 signatures in a bid to repeal the 1945 law.
For six months, the governor has imposed — and subsequently eased — restrictions on Michigan’s economy, K-12 school system, health care and even visits to state parks, all in an attempt to reduce the risk of the highly contagious virus, which has killed more than 6,500 residents.
In a statement, Gov. Whitmer said: "Today’s Supreme Court ruling, handed down by a narrow majority of Republican justices, is deeply disappointing, and I vehemently disagree with the court’s interpretation of the Michigan Constitution. Right now, every state and the federal government have some form of declared emergency. With this decision, Michigan will become the sole outlier at a time when the Upper Peninsula is experiencing rates of COVID infection not seen in our state since April.
"It is important to note that this ruling does not take effect for at least 21 days, and until then, my emergency declaration and orders retain the force of law. Furthermore, after 21 days, many of the responsive measures I have put in place to control the spread of the virus will continue under alternative sources of authority that were not at issue in today’s ruling.
"I know this is hard. We all want this crisis to be over, and we all want life to return to normal as soon as possible. But the only way we will get through this is by pulling together as Americans and working as one nation to defeat this virus. That means wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, and maintaining six feet of physical distancing. Michiganders have grit, and there is no challenge we can’t meet.
“I want the people of Michigan to know that no matter what happens, I will never stop fighting to keep you and your families safe from this deadly virus.”
While I respect and accept the decision of the court, I fear for the future of our state and for all our residents. Republicans and Democrats in our legislature must come together to support legislation which protects the health, safety and welfare of all Michiganders. https://t.co/W1YQNpBkPY— Dana Nessel (@dananessel) October 2, 2020
Republicans said Whitmer should have used a 1976 law, which gives lawmakers a say in any emergency declarations after 28 days.
In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court said the 1945 public safety law used by Whitmer granted Michigan governors unchecked authority.
“That act is an unlawful delegation of legislative power to the executive branch in violation of the Michigan Constitution,” Justice Stephen Markman wrote. “Accordingly, the executive orders issued by the governor in response to the COVID-19 pandemic now lack any basis under Michigan law.”
Justices nominated by the Republican Party joined the majority opinion.