Michigan court rebukes Whitmer, ending COVID powers now rather than 28 days

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled 6-1 on Monday that its decision stripping Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of emergency powers took immediate effect, rather than the 28 days she had argued. (Shutterstock)

The Michigan Supreme Court on Monday rebuked Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, ruling her emergency powers are over now rather than the 28-day delay she sought following a landmark ruling on her coronavirus orders.

The 6-1 ruling means the 30 executive orders that were in effect when the Supreme Court’s ruling came down on Oct. 2 no longer carry the weight of law. 

“I do not believe the court has the authority to grant the remedy the governor requests,” wrote Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack in a concurring opinion. “Respectfully, I believe that the [governor’s] motion … relies on a misunderstanding — there simply is no ‘precedential effect’ for this court to stay.”

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Some of the governor’s orders — such as a requirement for masks in most public spaces — have been temporarily replaced by orders issued by Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon. 

Others have not, such as expanded unemployment insurance benefits that Whitmer implemented by executive order. The ruling allowed residents who lost their job during the pandemic to qualify for benefits for up to 26 weeks instead of the usual 20 weeks.

Justice Richard Bernstein, who was nominated by Democrats, cited those benefits in his lone dissent, arguing the governor and Legislature should have time to replace orders such as the unemployment benefits. 

His opinion cited Whitmer’s claims that up to 830,000 residents may lose benefits. As of early October, nearly 2.3 million Michiganders had qualified for some form of unemployment insurance since March. 

“This represents a significant potential disruption to the livelihoods of the people of Michigan in a time of great public crisis,” Bernstein wrote.

Last week, the state Senate approved legislation that would continue the governor’s expanded unemployment insurance benefits. But lawmakers connected it to separate legislation that would retroactively shield businesses from legal liability for coronavirus-related harm done to employees unless the employee was killed, hospitalized or severely impacted by the virus. 

Senate Republicans are using a method called a “tie bar” that would mean the expanded unemployment insurance benefits bill couldn’t go into effect unless the business liability bills were also approved.

The House and Senate return to Lansing on Tuesday and are expected to act on the legislation. At a press conference Monday, the governor called upon the Legislature to break the tie bar and approve the unemployment extension benefits. 

“These are benefits that I was able to extend, but with the court’s decision they now hang in the balance,” Whitmer said.

She encouraged the Legislature to codify executive orders that had permitted local governments to meet remotely during the pandemic. Some communities including Lansing canceled meetings after the court order.

GOP leaders have not said whether they would consider breaking the tie bar on unemployment legislation, but they have pushed back on the governor’s plea they return to Lansing to act on the orders.

"We've been in session all during COVID, yet the governor has refused to work with us," House Speaker Lee Chatfield wrote on Twitter. "Now she's claiming we're not in town while she's working, though yesterday (Oct. 5) she campaigned all day for House Democrats. The hypocrisy is astounding."

The Supreme Court’s Monday decision continues the fallout from its Oct. 2 decision that a 1945 law the governor used to issue executive orders without the approval of the Legislature violated the separation of powers. 

Whitmer asked the court to clarify when the ruling goes into effect, arguing the orders should stay in place until Oct. 30. 

GOP leaders made clear that some of Whitmer’s mandates — such as a requirement that people wear masks when they’re inside businesses and other public spaces — would not be codified. But unemployment appears to be an area of bipartisan interest, despite the partisan tension that has increased since the ruling. 

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Mon, 10/12/2020 - 5:04pm

Kind of embarrassing that given the court's decision of this order/law being unconstitutional, that she somehow claims with a straight face it wouldn't go into effect for 28 days. A ploy or is she that dumb?

Mon, 10/12/2020 - 6:03pm

Hopeless hacks!

Mon, 10/12/2020 - 8:46pm

It is to bad people like carl the barber couldn't sue her personally for the grief, costs and trouble her administration inflicted on him. I am sure their are so so many others that have been destroyed from this unchecked lawlessness.
On top of everything else the who, not who cares, or the band who, but w.h.o. (world health organization has come out and said lock downs are harmful to people and economies and only should be used for the purpose of organization of supplies and man power, not to inflict presistant destruction on it citizens, but working to provide protection for the most vulnerable, i know paraphrasing. Nor i doubt the practice approved practice of sending infected people back into the nursing homes like we were in michigan which ended the life of even more vulnerable aged citizens.
This has been what trump and most conservatives have been trying to say all along i believe, but to many were drunk on power and liked the feeling of being important even if they were wrong.

Tue, 10/13/2020 - 11:10am

Governor Whitmer would benefit from reviewing the first law of holes: "If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging".

Tue, 10/13/2020 - 3:13pm

Why should businesses who fail to take all the necessary precautions in order to to protect employees be shielded from liability? If a negligent business was shielded from liability for a worker's injuries or death in any other area, people would be up in arms. Think about an employee not being able to seek damages for injury due to faulty machinery or suffering lung damage due to a not being provided PPE for working with dust or chemicals. Why is this any different?

It's mind boggling how many people are willing to vote against their own interests given the GOP's disdain for the working class. The GOP has done an amazing job getting wage slaves to care more about abortion and immigrants than things that will have a direct positive impact on their lives like health care, education, or increasing the minimum wage.

Wed, 10/14/2020 - 6:42am

This is a cold virus, you can get or transmit anywhere. What should we say then, an individual should directly sue any other indvidual who transmitted the covid, can you imagine, shouldn't you also be responabile or a family f9r getting some one sick? Would they be tried for involuntary manslaughter if they ended up killing some ? What's the difference? Does this just need to be unlimited lawsuits for businesses that has the individual spreading it. NO WE SOULD SUE THE SPREADER, maybe it will be you. Honsetly , what has happen to people's critical thinking skills. Did all this destruction and thinking stop the cold and flu season from returning this year, it has just started. All of this is rubbish.