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Whitmer says Michigan Supreme Court “undermined” COVID efforts

gretchen whitmer at a press conference

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Sunday a court opinion that said she exceeded her authority with a series of COVID-19 emergency orders will not be the final word on the issue.

Whitmer said on CNN the advisory opinion from the state’s highest court puts the health of Michiganders at risk. The Michigan Supreme Court’s opinion said the governor exceeded her authority by issuing and re-issuing orders that require masks, distancing, and restricting public gatherings without getting approval from the Legislature.

“The Supreme Court in Michigan undermined my emergency rule, my emergency orders that I’ve had to enact that puts us in the same state as all other states in this nation, to save lives,” she said. “We’ve saved thousands of lives.” 

The opinion was delivered as advice at the request of a federal court considering a challenge to Whitmer’s emergency powers.  

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) said Republicans stand ready to bargain with the Democratic governor on COVID-19 measures. But he also said GOP lawmakers are opposed to mask mandates and sweeping business shutdowns. He said last week it’s time to switch from “operating in fear of the virus to government managing life in the presence of the virus.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says cloth face coverings are one of the most effective weapons available to slow the spread of the virus.

Attorney General Dana Nessel said her office will not seek criminal charges for violations of Whitmer’s emergency orders.

“Her decision, though, is not binding on other law enforcement agencies or state departments with independent enforcement authority,” said Nessel spokesperson Ryan Jarvi.

That means local law enforcement can enforce masking and distancing rules. It also leaves open the possibility of departments seeking civil penalties. The state Department of Health and Human Services has also issued its own safety orders. 

The governor’s office also said many of the governor’s orders are legal under “alternative sources of authority that were not at issue in the court’s ruling.”

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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