The Corner

Politics & Policy

Has Governor Whitmer Finally Been Boxed In?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D., Mich.) speaks in Southfield, Mich., October 16, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer has been a nightmare during the pandemic. From signing an executive order sending COVID-19 patients into nursing homes (a la Andrew Cuomo) to last week requiring two-year-olds to wear masks, she has consistently made poor judgment calls.

So it is good news that a referendum petition drive to repeal much of her authority to issue decrees during an emergency has been found by state officials to have collected nearly 500,000 valid signatures. It’s on its way to becoming law.

Michigan law allows the state’s legislature to bypass having a direct vote of the people on a referendum and enact it as their own. If they do so, there’s no requirement to have a two-thirds vote of both houses to override a governor’s veto.

This puts Whitmer in a box. Last year, the Michigan supreme court ruled Whitmer’s emergency decrees were an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power to the governor. But she promptly had state health officials use the public-health code to reissue the same epidemic orders the supreme court had just found invalid.

Ron Armstrong, the co-chair of Unlock Michigan, points out at least eight other states have taken action to rein in the unilateral power of a governor during a pandemic. “When it was determined within the emergency orders you couldn’t get in a boat with your family, you couldn’t buy paint, you couldn’t go to the store or church, it got to be craziness,” he said. “Those things are individual rights and freedoms that don’t go away even in the middle of a pandemic.”


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