Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is moving forward with new health mandates despite a state Supreme Court ruling last week that struck down her extended emergency powers.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued new orders on Monday to keep in place mask requirements, limits on public gatherings, and other health codes put in place by the governor’s administration during the coronavirus pandemic. The fresh mandates come days after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that Whitmer lacked the authority to continue to enforce emergency health codes for the pandemic.
“When it comes to fighting COVID-19, we are all in this together. We need Michiganders everywhere to do their part by wearing masks and practicing safe physical distancing so we can keep our schools and small businesses open and protect the brave men and women serving on the front lines of this crisis,” Whitmer said in a statement. “The epidemic order that [MDHHS] Director Gordon issued today is an important step to protect Michiganders across the state from the spread of COVID-19. Let’s all mask up and stay safe.”
Whitmer’s office said the new orders are based on authority given to the governor during the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, which was not challenged in the court decision.
“Violations of this order are punishable by a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than six months or a fine of not more than $200, or both. Violations of this order are also punishable by a civil fine of up to $1,000,” MDHHS said
The court ruled against Whitmer on Friday, saying that neither the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act nor the 1976 Emergency Management Act granted Whitmer the authority to extend her executive power under multiple, consecutive emergency declarations. The court said in a 4-3 majority ruling that “We conclude that the Governor lacked the authority to declare a ‘state of emergency’ or a ‘state of disaster’ under the EMA after April 30, 2020, on the basis of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Furthermore, we conclude that the EPGA is in violation of the Constitution of our state because it purports to delegate to the executive branch the legislative powers of state government – including its plenary police powers – and to allow the exercise of such powers indefinitely,” the ruling said.
The governor slammed the court’s decision in a Friday statement, calling the ruling “deeply disappointing” while defending her actions taken during the pandemic. Whitmer’s health codes, especially those focused on the treatment of long-term care facility residents, have earned bipartisan criticism from the state legislature.
The governor’s office issued a follow-up statement on Sunday reiterating that the governor intended to continue enforcing her health mandates under different avenues of authority not up for review in the Supreme Court decision.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling raises several legal questions that we are still reviewing. While we are moving swiftly, this transition will take time. As the governor said last week, many of the responsive measures she has put in place to control the spread of the virus will continue under alternative sources of authority that were not at issue in the court’s ruling. We will have more to say on this in the coming days,” Whitmer’s office said, according to WILX. “Make no mistake, Governor Whitmer will continue using every tool at her disposal to keep Michigan families, frontline workers, and small businesses safe from this deadly virus.”