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Gov. Whitmer Faces Lawsuit From Republican State Lawmakers Over Emergency Powers

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Some are calling the lawsuit a "Hail Mary."

Governor Gretchen Whitmer is facing several legal challenges over her use of emergency powers in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Republican leaders in the Michigan legislature filed the latest lawsuit Wednesday against the Democratic leader of the state.

WKAR’s politics reporter Abigail Censky joined WKAR’s Sophia Saliby to break it down. 

Republicans in the Michigan House and Senate disagree with Whitmer's use of executive power during the pandemic. 

After a  judge in the Michigan Court of Claims struck down a lawsuit arguing the state’s stay-at-home order was unconstitutional in late April, and Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-10)  filed a lawsuit challenging the governor’s measures during the pandemic, the Governor now faces another lawsuit from the Republican-dominated Michigan legislature. 

The lawsuit argues a 1945 law covering the governor’s use of emergency powers only pertains area emergencies, not statewide emergencies. 

Republicans also claim the governor's actions are unconstitutional, violating rules mandating separation of powers among co-equal branches of the state government. They say she needs to seek input from the legislature to continue acting in her capacity as the state's chief executive. 

Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield (R-Cheboygan) spoke on these issues when Republicans announced the lawsuit Wednesday.

That fact is that's why we’re here today. The governor asked for an extension, and we chose not to give it because no real assurances are being given to us. Therefore, she chose to go it alone, so I’m not quite certain why she would come back and ask for an extension when she’s already made the unilateral and unconstitutional decision that she longer needs the legislature for as long as she decides.

A spokesperson for Governor Whitmer has called the lawsuit a “partisan game."

The governor had a similar response last week after Republican state legislators refused to extend her emergency declaration saying she wouldn't yield to public pressure, and she'd only continue to make decisions based on the counsel of epidimiologist, business, and labor leaders. 

The fact that they chose not to extend the state of emergency is something altogether different. So, no one should be rushing the gun and playing fast and loose when starting to restart sectors of the economy that haven’t been deemed low enough risk to do that yet. We’ll get there.

It’s unclear yet how far the case will go. Some see the challenge as a “Hail Mary” from the Republicans.

Richard Primus is a constitutional law professor at the University of Michigan.

He believes the legal claims made in the lawsuit are weak, but he sees it as a way for the party to voice its opposition to the governor.

The basic problem the legislature faces is that the law made by the legislature in previous years is on the governor’s side. It gives her the power that she’s exercising. I think the legislature doesn’t like it that the law gives the governor the power that she’s exercising, and there’s room to argue that there could be a better system for emergencies than the one we have.

Going forward, Republicans have asked for an expedited ruling in the case. The judge set to hear is the case is an appointee of former Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm. 

Abigail Censky is the Politics & Government reporter at WKAR. She started in December 2018.
Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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