Whitmer did not have authority to extend emergency COVID-19 orders past April, Michigan Supreme Court rules

Friday, October 2, 2020 - 8:27pm

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Asha Lewis/Daily

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Friday afternoon, saying she did not have the authority to extend executive orders related to COVID-19 precautions past April 30. This ruling potentially nullifies many of Whitmer’s recent executive orders intended to curb the spread of the virus, including her Sept. 29 decision to keep the state of emergency in place until Oct. 27. 

According to the ruling, Whitmer did not “possess the authority to exercise emergency powers” under the Emergency Power of the Governor Act of 1945 because this act violates the Michigan Constitution, inappropriately delegating legislative power to the executive branch. Currently, the EPGA gives the governor the ability to declare a state of emergency if necessary. The Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling will take effect on Oct. 23. 

Justices Stephen Markman, Brian Zahra and Elizabeth Clement concurred in striking down Whitmer’s ability to extend a state of emergency after April 30, the date the Michigan legislature voted upon when they decided to prolong the state of emergency on April 7. 

“The Governor only possessed the authority or obligation to declare a state of emergency or state of disaster once and then had to terminate that declaration when the Legislature did not authorize an extension,” the ruling reads. “The Governor possessed no authority to redeclare the same state of emergency or state of disaster and thereby avoid the Legislature’s limitation on her authority.”

One of Whitmer’s orders prohibited fans from attending sporting events. Michigan football is scheduled to play on Oct. 24. The Big Ten, which recently announced plans to resume its season after complaints and protests from players, coaches and parents, will not allow fans to be in attendance at games. 

University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an email that the University will take the ruling into consideration in the future. 

“The university will carefully consider the ruling before making any decisions,” Fitzgerald wrote. “Our understanding is that the ruling does not take effect for 21 days.”

In a statement, Whitmer said she “vehemently” disagreed with the court and assured residents that many of the precautions currently in place — including a limit of 20 people per 1,000 square feet on indoor gatherings and face mask requirements — would remain in place despite the ruling. According to Whitmer, these rules will now continue under “alternative authorities.”

“Right now, every state and the federal government have some form of declared emergency,” Whitmer said. “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.”

Washtenaw County implemented its own COVID-19 guidelines as cases among students have begun to tick upward. An order from the Washtenaw County Health Department Friday said outdoor gatherings will continue to be capped at 25 people for Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, both college towns. These guidelines are meant to prevent students from spreading the virus among each other at off-campus gatherings and in communal housing. 

Jimena Loveluck, health officer for Washtenaw County, said in a statement that the number of cases among college students is particularly concerning. County data showed a “significant increase” in the proportion of cases among 18 to 22 year olds — the age group made up 78% of reported cases from Sept. 17 to Sept. 30.

 

“We are currently seeing a sharp increase in cases among local, college-age individuals,” Loveluck said. “We know social gatherings without precautions are a primary source of exposure. We can prevent additional spread by keeping all gatherings small, using face coverings and distance, and fully cooperating with case investigators and contact tracers.”

 

Daily News Editor Liat Weinstein can be reached at weinsl@umich.edu.

 

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