/Judge tosses Michigan lawmakers suit over Gov. Gretchen Whitmers emergency powers

Judge tosses Michigan lawmakers suit over Gov. Gretchen Whitmers emergency powers

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a news conference on April 29, 2020.

DETROIT – A judge has tossed a lawsuit filed by Republican lawmakers that challenged Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s use of emergency powers to lockdown the state amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens sided with the governor, a Democrat, in an opinion issued Thursday that ends the lawsuit.

Legal experts had said such an outcome was likely. Republicans vowed to appeal the judge’s ruling.

The lawsuit, filed May 7 by the Republican-controlled state House and Senate, argued that Whitmer’s emergency orders, including the stay-at-home order that runs through May 28, were invalid because of a lack of statutory authority.

Gretchen Whitmer:Michigan lawmakers sue governor over emergency powers

The judge declared that Whitmer’s actions were within her authority under the Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945 and that the orders and restrictions on movement and commerce can stand.

The judge did side with the Republicans’ legal argument that Whitmer overstepped her power when citing a 1976 law, the Emergency Management Act, to re-declare a state of emergency in late April without support from the legislature.

Whitmer went too far, the judge said, because the 1976 law has a 28-day limit on how long a governor can act independently from the legislature.

But Whitmer ultimately still had authority and emergency powers under the 1945 law, the judge’s opinion says, so her executive orders for a lockdown still stand. The older law sets no time limit on a state of emergency and makes no provision for legislative review.

The judge rejected Republicans’ arguments that the 1945 law should apply to local or regional emergencies and not statewide emergencies.

Whitmer has since eased up on some lockdown restrictions, although businesses including bars, sit-down restaurants, gyms, theaters and barbershops in most parts of the state must remain closed until at least May 29.

“Today’s decision recognizes that the governor’s actions to save lives are lawful and her orders remain in place,” Whitmer said in a statement. “She will continue to do what she’s always done: take careful, decisive actions to protect Michiganders from this unprecedented, global pandemic.”

Follow JC Reindlat on Twitter: @jcreindl.