The Republican leaders in the House and Senate filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, alleging her Thursday extension of the state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic was unlawful.
The law in Michigan is “very clear,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, said at a Capitol news conference. “Only the Legislature has the power to extend the state of emergency.”
The lawsuit was filed in the Michigan Court of Claims, said Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.
“The Legislature is left with no choice but to seek the court’s intervention to restore constitutional order,” said Shirkey.
Despite the assertions of the Republican leaders, many legal experts have said the governor was on solid ground in extending the state of emergency under the Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945, which sets no time limit on a state of emergency and makes no provision for legislative review. Those attorneys include Republican Bruce Timmons, a longtime staffer of the House Judiciary Committee.
The Emergency Management Act of 1976, which Whitmer also invoked, sets a 28-day time limit on a state of emergency before legislative approval is required.
The lawsuit, which requests “a speedy hearing,” says the Emergency Powers of Governor Act “reaches only local emergencies — not the sort of statewide concern that COVID-19 presents.”
The suit also alleges that Whitmer’s actions violate constitutional requirements for “separation of powers among co-equal branches of government.”
The suit seeks a declaratory ruling that the emergency orders are unlawful.
The case was assigned to Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens through a blind draw, a court spokesman said. Stephens was appointed to the Michigan Court of Appeals by former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2008. The four Court of Claims judges are drawn from the Court of Appeals. Ultimately, the case is likely headed to the Michigan Supreme Court, where Republican appointees hold a 4-3 edge over Democratic appointees.
Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown called the lawsuit a “partisan game that won’t distract the governor.”
Brown said that “moving forward, the governor will continue to listen to medical experts and put the health and safety of Michiganders first.”
Michigan’s state of emergency currently runs through May 28. Whitmer’s stay-at-home order runs through May 15.
Although the suits are officially brought by the House and Senate, they do not have the support of Democrats, who are in the minority in each chamber.
“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,” Senate Democrats said in a news release.
House Minority Leader Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, accused the GOP leaders of squandering scarce taxpayer resources on the lawsuit.
“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 theater, dripping with hypocrisy,” Greig said.
Chatfield said Whitmer has rejected offers for compromise and cooperation and imposed a “one-size-fits-all approach” to the pandemic, although he said many parts of the state are in a much better position to open many workplaces than other parts of the state are.
Michigan residents are being told they can’t work, “even when it can be done safely,” he said.
“We believe there are many commonsense changes … that need to be implemented,” he said.
Whitmer, a Democrat, has begun to ease restrictions but says it has to be done cautiously and based on scientific data to prevent a second surge in COVID-19 cases.
Whitmer brought together leaders in health care, business, labor and education to develop what she calls the “MI Safe Start” plan to restart the economy “in a way that protects our workers and their families.”
She recently allowed greenhouses, lawn care and golf to resume, with restrictions. Residential and commercial construction, in-person real estate sales, parking enforcement and forestry are among the sectors set to reopen Thursday.
She has also divided the state into eight geographic zones as part of the reopening plan, though so far, all orders have applied statewide.
The auto companies are targeting May 18 for restarting their plants, but are still awaiting approval from Whitmer.
“Expressly and publicly refusing to collaborate with the Legislature, defendant has unilaterally crafted and implemented public policies governing almost every aspect of life in Michigan,” the suit alleges.
“These include restrictions on how every person in Michigan may work, go to school, worship, exercise legal rights, socialize, and live hour-by-hour.”
The suit alleges that Whitmer’s actions, “contrary to express legislative intent and the most basic understanding of checks and balances,” would “leave Michigan in a state of emergency indefinitely, with no real constraints on the governor’s vast emergency powers during that time.”
Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4. Read more on Michigan politics and sign up for our elections newsletter.
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