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Judge rules Governor Whitmer has the authority to extend the state of emergency

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Posted at 6:08 AM, May 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-22 06:08:30-04

LANSING, Mich. — The first round in the court fight over Governor Gretchen Whitmer's unilateral extension of Michigan's state of emergency has gone to the Governor.

Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens ruled Thursday that the Governor has the authority to declare an emergency and decide when it ends under the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act.

Republicans in the state Legislature sued after the Governor extended the state of emergency, saying her actions are illegal under the 1976 Emergency Management Act. That law says a state of emergency can only last for 28 days unless the Legislature votes to extend it.

The House and Senate chose not to vote on extension when the Governor's declaration expired on April 30.

Judge Stephens agreed with the plaintiffs that a Legislative vote is needed to extend the state of emergency under the 1976 law. But she also ruled the 1945 law gives the Governor the authority to extend it.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), both Republicans, announced the lawsuit after the Governor extended the state of emergency through May 28. They have argued the Governor's executive orders closing businesses across the state are too restrictive and have been pushing for a more regional approach.

The Republican-controlled Legislature is expected to appeal Thursday's ruling. Judge Stephens said she expects the case to go to the Supreme Court of Michigan.

The Governor's office released the following statement to Fox 47 Thursday:

"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."

Senator Shirkey released the following statement to Fox 47 Thursday:

“While we are disappointed by aspects of this determination, we are vindicated in our assertion that the Governor acted unlawfully in attempting to extend the states of emergency and disaster under the Emergency Management Act without legislative approval. We are confident in our position and will appeal this ruling."

House Democratic leader Rep. Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) released a statement calling on Republicans to drop the lawsuit.

“Today’s ruling does not come as a surprise. From the very beginning of this suit, it was clear that it was a waste of time and a waste of taxpayer dollars. I’d like to thank Judge Stephens for a swift decision in this matter. Determined to put partisan politics above the needs of the people of the state, Republican leadership could have set back Michigan’s recovery from COVID-19 weeks with this dubious attempt to undermine the governor’s life-saving response to the pandemic. Instead, the position advanced in the House Democratic Caucus' amicus brief prevailed and we can put the GOP’s “meritless” claims behind us. Let’s get back to saving lives, protecting the livelihood of Michiganders and allowing the governor to do the job she was elected to do.”

AG Dana Nessel released a statement saying she hopes public officials and residents can move forward from this with confidence in the Governor's actions:
"We're still reviewing the opinion but I'm pleased that the Court acted quickly to clarify legal issues of significant importance to the people of this State. With this clarity, it's my hope that our public officials and residents can move forward with confidence that the Governor has acted in accordance with the authority provided to her under the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act. It's time for us all to focus on the health and safety of the People in this State rather than fighting against each other in unnecessary legal battles in our courts."

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