Questioning Gubernatorial Authority in the Coronavirus Pandemic
As the U.S. economy has shed jobs at a level comparable to the Great Depression–and as over 300 department stores are expected to be shuttered–victims of not just the stay-at-home prescriptions, but also the eroding bricks and mortar economy; cities and counties–even as they are the first level of response to this devastating crisis, have remained the first responders at this time of unprecedented need. And, it appears likely they will not be able to look to the federal government for help: The Trump Administration and U.S. Senate continue to oppose coronavirus pandemic relief to the nation’s cities and counties.
Now, as the nation contemplates the hazardous process of reopening, Michigan Rep. Paul Mitchell, (R-Dryden) has formed a ballot committee aimed at collecting signatures to restrict the unilateral emergency powers which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to combat COVID-19. Last week, the Representative announced his filing of a lawsuit against the Governor, alleging her executive orders had violated his rights. He has formed a ballot committee, Say Yes to MI Constitution, which could initiate a proposal to go before the Legislature. Should said group collect more than the requisite 340,000 signatures, its proposal could gain the approval of the Republican-controlled Legislature, thereby enabling it to become law without Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature.
The issue of re-opening, a political issue at every level of government, is likely more resonant in Michigan, where memories of Flint and Detroit’s chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy are resonant, with home sales dropping by 46 percent.
In a statement, the Congressman noted: “Michiganders elect members of the Legislature to represent them in our government. Unfortunately, Gov. Whitmer is misusing her powers to rewrite laws, court decisions, and insists she can dial up these powers whenever she sees fit…That is not the way our Michigan Constitution works, and I am forming this ballot committee to make that crystal clear. The Legislature and the people of Michigan should always have a voice.”
Gov. Whitmer has previously been clear that she is making use of her executive authority to protect people’s lives “whether you agree with me or not.” State Democrats have labeled discussed attempts to change the state law which grants the Governor emergency powers to be “playing politics.”
Rep. Mitchell is expected to make public coalition members and specific ballot language in the near future.
Mayhap adding fuel to the proverbial fire, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) called for a petition drive to repeal the 1945 state statute which provides governors in Michigan the sole authority to declare a state of emergency authority granted, as in most states, but does not appear to give the Legislature input on the matter.
In Michigan, the emergency declaration grants the Governor authority to issue unilateral orders, like the stay-at-home restriction. Such authority, such as we witnessed in the wake of the terrorist bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, or as used by former President Franklin Roosevelt to declare war after the bombing at Pearl Harbor–or former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in regard to which, in his memoir, former New York Governor Pataki wrote: “Governor, you have extraordinary powers to extend my term in office.”
In a radio appearance, Majority Leader Shirkey added: “I think it’s probably the No. 1 priority right now: That allows true representative government…to take over.” Thus, on Wednesday last, Republicans in the Michigan Legislature filed suit to challenge Gov. Whitmer’s emergency powers in state court. Rep. Mitchell’s new ballot committee: “Say Yes to MI Constitution, ” was officially formed last Tuesday, according to state records.