LANSING, Mich. — On Wednesday, Republican leaders in the House and Senate announced a lawsuit challenging the governor’s authority to unilaterally extend Michigan’s coronavirus state of emergency until May 28. The GOP-led House and Senate declined to extend the emergency just last week.
“The law in Michigan is very clear,” said House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “Only the legislature can extend a state of emergency, and we chose not to because no real assurances were given of changes that would restore people's livelihoods or that there would be an actual negotiation.”
“We're trying to provide clarity. That's why we're going to the courts,” he added.
The Michigan Court of Claims will now have to decide if Governor Gretchen Whitmer was justified in using two emergency powers laws from 1945 and 1976 to unilaterally extend the emergency on April 30th without approval from the legislature.
The 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act allows the executive branch to declare and extend states of emergency with no limit on time and no approval from the legislature needed. Wednesday, Speaker Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clark Lake), said the lawsuit seeks to prove that power only applies to local emergency declarations, now statewide.
“It is our firm belief that the 1945 law or the ‘76 law does not give this governor or any governor the power to rule the entire state on their own, forever. That's what we're trying to provide clarity for,” said Mr. Shirkey. “We are left with no options to work with an executive who claimed she could indefinitely wield unlimited power without legislative approval.”
Language in the 1945 act states the governor can “designate the area involved” in a state of emergency but does not specify further.
Somewhat contradictorily, the 1976 Emergency Management Act requires legislative approval for an extension of a state of emergency after 28 days. The lawsuit seeks to have that statute, as well as the 28-day limit, apply to the 1945 Act as well.
“The question before the court is whether or not the governor has not just the unilateral authority to declare a state of emergency, but to carry it on as long as he or she decides in perpetuity, therefore rendering the legislature completely meaningless,” said Mr. Chatfield.
“This lawsuit is just another partisan game that won’t distract the governor,” said Whitmer press secretary Tiffany Brown. “Her number one priority is saving lives. She’s making decisions based on science and data, not political or legal pressure…moving forward, the governor will continue to listen to medical experts and put the health and safety of Michiganders first.”
The lawsuit won’t seek damages, but instead a legal ruling from a Court of Claims judge.
Leader Shirkey and Speaker Chatfield said Wednesday that they had filed for an expedited ruling, but admitted there was no timeline for when the court might take up the lawsuit.
“We wouldn't file a lawsuit if we thought it was a Hail Mary,” said Mr. Shirkey. “This lawsuit is a very important point and a very important leverage point and the stake in the ground, representing the citizens of Michigan to ensure that the Constitution is followed as intended.”
The state of emergency now extended to May 28 different from the stay home order, which expires on May 15.
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