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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Michigan gyms to open Thursday as judge won’t budge on Whitmer appeal

Sept. 2: Michigan gyms, theaters, bowling alleys may finally be able to reopen soon
June 24: Last-minute ruling keeps Michigan gyms closed, hours before they could reopen

Michigan gyms can still open on Thursday, after a federal judge declined Monday to halt his order while Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appeals the case to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Whitmer asked U.S. District Court Judge Paul Maloney to stay his Friday decision to allow fitness centers to reopen. He refused, writing that Whitmer failed to prove she has a substantial likelihood of prevailing on appeal or that the public would be irreparably harmed in the meantime. 

The court “sought only some rational basis for the continued closure of indoor gyms while other similar businesses may open,” but Whitmer couldn’t provide that, Maloney wrote in the decision.

The decision comes two days after Maloney ruled that state attorneys didn’t give enough evidence to justify keeping gyms closed while bars, restaurants, salons and other businesses with high levels of public contact were allowed to open. 

“Counsel could not articulate a reason beyond the bare assertion that gyms are dangerous,” Malone wrote in the Friday ruling. “This Court fully recognizes that the bar is extremely low, but it is not that low. Defendants cannot rely on the categorization of gyms as ‘dangerous,’ without a single supporting fact, to uphold their continued closure.”

Whitmer’s office pledged to appeal and immediately requested that the court stay the decision while they do so. 

Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown told Bridge Friday that Maloney is “playing a dangerous role [he] should not play: second-guessing and upending the data-informed decisions that have saved thousands of lives in Michigan.”

Maloney, a former chief judge of the federal bench’s Michigan’s Western District, was appointed in 2007 by then-President George W. Bush.

The case disputes a provision of an executive order shutting down “indoor gymnasiums, fitness centers, recreation centers, sports facilities, exercise facilities, exercise studios, and the like.” 

It wasn’t immediately clear Monday if indoor pools in gyms, which Whitmer ordered closed, would be allowed to open even if the rest of the fitness center is allowed to reopen. Outdoor pools have been allowed to be open at half capacity since June 8.

The case, filed in late May by a trade organization for fitness center owners, is one of the most successful challenges to Whitmer’s emergency powers during the coronavirus pandemic. 

A Court of Claims judge in May sided with Whitmer in a case challenging her ability to extend the state of emergency without the Legislature’s approval.

 

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