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Last-minute ruling keeps Michigan gyms closed, hours before they could reopen

Sept. 2: Michigan gyms, theaters, bowling alleys may finally be able to reopen soon

Most Michigan gyms will remain closed Thursday, after a panel of three federal judges sided with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer just hours before they were to reopen.

The order reverses an order by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Maloney on Monday, who had allowed fitness centers to remain open and refused to pause his decision while Whitmer appealed. Gyms were set to open Thursday under the ruling. 

The eight-page decision — written by Judges Julia Gibbons, Deborah Cook and Chad Readler of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, all of whom were appointed by Republican presidents — offered sweeping support for governors exercising executive power under the coronavirus pandemic. 

State and local executives have “had difficult decisions to make in honoring public health concerns while respecting individual liberties,” the judges wrote. 

Maloney had argued that Whitmer “could not articulate a reason beyond the bare assertion that gyms are dangerous.” However, the appeals judges argued Whitmer supported her order with research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even though the legal standard only requires her to provide “rational speculation” and “conceivable” support for her actions. 

The judges wrote they “sympathize deeply” with business owners who must remain closed under the order, but wrote that “crises like COVID-19 can call for quick, decisive measures to save lives.”

“Yet those measures can have extreme costs—costs that often are not borne evenly,” they wrote. “The decision to impose those costs rests with the political branches of government, in this case, Governor Whitmer.”

The case was filed in late May by a trade organization for fitness center owners.

“Though Plaintiffs bear the very real risk of losing their businesses, the Governor’s interest in combating COVID-19 is at least equally significant,” the judges wrote.

“To date, the disease has infected thousands of Michiganders, and it has shown the potential to infect many more. That the public interest weighs in favor of a stay is apparent for the same reason.”

Since March, nearly 5,900 Michigan residents have died and almost 62,000 have been infected by the coronavirus.

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