Michigan court rules Whitmer has authority to extend state of emergency, dismisses lawsuit

Judge Cynthia Stephens of Michigan has ruled that governor Gretchen Whitmer had the authority to extend Michigan’s state of emergency, overriding arguments of Republican lawmakers

Per CNN, a Michigan judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Republican leaders of the state’s Legislature challenging Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s use of emergency powers to extend Michigan’s state of emergency.

Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens ruled that while Whitmer’s action of re-declaring the same emergency violated the provisions of the state’s Emergency Management Act, the Legislature’s challenges to Whitmer’s use of the Emergency Powers of Governor Act to issue executive orders are meritless.

DetroitNews reports Judge Cynthia Stephens noted the governor exceeded her authority by trying to extend the emergency under the Emergency Management Act of 1976, which requires legislative authority.

But Stephens upheld the constitutionality of the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945.

The ruling overrides the argument from the Republican-led House and Senate that Whitmer had no authority to extend the coronavirus state of emergency past April without legislative approval.

“Through two distinct acts, stated in plain and certain terms, the Legislature has granted the governor broad but focused authority to respond to emergencies that affect the state and its people,” Stephens said.

The extension under the Emergency Management Act provided liability protections for health care workers during the pandemic, and it’s not clear whether those protections stand after the judge ruled Whitmer exceeded her authority. The Legislature is considering bills extending those liability protections that could perhaps take the place of the protections afforded under the Emergency Management Act.

The Thursday decision recognized the lawfulness of the governor’s actions during the pandemic, her office 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,” the statement said. “We owe it to our front-line heroes who have been putting their lives on the line to pull together as a state and work as one team to stop the spread of this virus.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel said Thursday she was still reviewing the opinion, but she hoped it would allow state leaders to focus on public health instead of “unnecessary legal battles.”

“With this clarity, it’s my hope that our public officials and residents can move forward with confidence that the governor has acted in accordance with the authority provided to her under the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act,” Nessel said.

Stephens’ ruling also established the Legislature did have standing to bring the case. Whitmer had argued lawmakers had no more standing than a member of the public.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said Thursday the Legislature was “disappointed” by parts of the ruling but promised to appeal the decision.

“We are vindicated in our assertion that the governor acted unlawfully in attempting to extend the states of emergency and disaster under the Emergency Management Act without legislative approval,” he said. “We are confident in our position and will appeal this ruling.”