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Judge rules governor can continue emergency declarations without legislative approval

Gretchen Whitmer at a podium

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has won a legal victory tied to to her executive orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Thursday, a Michigan Court of Claims judge ruledWhitmer has the power to declare consecutive states of emergency without waiting for the Legislature's approval.

The challenge was filed by the Legislature’s Republican leaders. They argued the Democratic governor exceeded her authority and that she must get the Legislature’s approval to continue a state of emergency after 28 days.

Whitmer has declared COVID-19 emergencies multiple times and used the authority that goes with that. Many of her orders have restricted gatherings and commerce to the chagrin of many Republicans.

Judge Cynthia Stephens agreed with the Legislature's Republican Leadership that the governor did not have authority to declare continued emergencies under the Emergency Management Act without legislative approval, but she did say the governor could declare continued emergencies under the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act, which Whitmer had done.

""While the Governor’s action of re-declaring the same emergency violated the provisions of the EMA, plaintiffs’ challenges to the EPGA and the Governor’s authority to issue Executive Orders thereunder are meritless."

The judge said the governor therefore has that authority for as long as the emergency exists. 

The governor's office issued a statement following the ruling:

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

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said in a statement that he’s disappointed in the result, and Republicans will appeal the decision.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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