LANSING, Mich — After a late Friday court ruling, a confusing weekend and a flurry of responses on Monday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is encouraging Michigan residents to continue to take COVID-19 seriously.
The Michigan Supreme Court ruled the 1945 emergency powers law the governor was using is unconstitutional, which put dozens of sweeping executive orders in jeopardy. But on Monday, many of the key mandates were reinstated through an emergency order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
This included the requirement to wear masks in public, restrictions on group sizes and limits on venues. The health department director, Robert Gordon, said it is within his jurisdiction to issue epidemic orders in the midst of an emergency.
In the wake of this public health order, Whitmer issued a statement and a social media video Monday night.
“As a result of the Court and the legislature’s action, our COVID-19 cases will very likely go up. There will be uncertainty, disruption, and possibly greater risk to our economy, more people quarantined, and more deaths," the statement read.
The point of contention was Whitmer's reliance on a 1945 law, which she cited over the past several months as the basis for extending the state of emergency without approval from the legislature. The court determined that law was unconstitutional.
“The ruling does not mean that the orders I issued violated the law," Whitmer said. "Although I disagree with the conclusion, the Court held the law is unconstitutional, meaning the legislature did not have power to pass the law in 1945. In fact, the Court made clear that I interpreted the 1945 law correctly. And the ruling does not mean all of the protections we have put in place will go away. I have additional powers that I will use to protect our families from the spread of this virus.”
The emergency order operates outside of the governor's emergency powers, and Whitmer cited Michigan public health code, which says "if the director determines that control of an epidemic is necessary to protect the public health, the director by emergency order may prohibit the gathering of people for any purpose and may establish procedures to be followed during the epidemic to insure continuation of essential public health services and enforcement of health laws."
MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said the order has its own legal authority and is necessary to help curb the spread of COVID-19, saying "today’s order is lawful under the Michigan Supreme Court’s recent decision." The emergency order has less restrictions than those issued by Whitmer, but Gordon implied Monday that other departments may act to implement mandates.
As of Oct. 5, Michigan recorded 128,923 cases of COVID-19, and the state's 7-day average is on an upward trajectory. Gordon pointed to a spike in cases in the Upper Peninsula, saying the colder weather, kids back in school and flu season are increasing the risks.
"Taking this action is essential to keeping our small businesses and schools open. COVID 19 didn’t stop being a threat because the court ruling, or because we’ve tired of it, or because the legislature left town," Whitmer said.
House Speaker Lee Chatfield called Friday's ruling a big win for Michigan, saying the legislature can now work with the governor to respond to the pandemic. On Monday, he questions the order issued by the health department and said the governor would be more productive working with the legislature.
"We’re still reviewing but this seems like another overreach. What was unconstitutional for the Governor yesterday remains unconstitutional today for her and her staff today. The Governor’s strategy of addressing health crises alone, from vaping to COVID-19, has been struck down by the courts again and again. Insisting on doing the same thing again is foolish. Michigan deserves better," a statement read in part.
Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican from Clarklake and a critic of the governor's use of emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic, tweeted on Monday that the court "couldn't have been more clear in their ruling" and Whitmer should "work with the Legislature to tackle the pandemic."
The governor on Monday asked the Supreme Court not to make their ruling binding in Oct. 30, to give the Republican-led legislature and local health departments the opportunity to put alternative measures in place. Whitmer continued residents to take precautions, like wearing a mask in public, washing hands, social distancing and getting a flu shot.
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