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Whitmer, Legislature must work together during pandemic

Now that the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled the state’s 1945 emergency powers law unconstitutional, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer must do what she should have been doing throughout the COVID-19 crisis — work with the Legislature to devise a plan for protecting Michigan residents from the virus.

In the 4-3 decision, the court ruled invalid the law that Whitmer used to unilaterally extend her powers after the first, lawmaker-approved emergency declaration expired in late April. The majority held the law delegated powers to the governor that rightly belong to the Legislature.

All of the executive orders issued by the governor since April 30 will go away once the ruling goes into effect, and will need legislative approval to be reinstated.

The federal lawsuit was filed by three Michigan medical centers and a patient claiming they were negatively impacted by the governor’s emergency orders limiting their operations. The federal judge hearing the case asked the Michigan justices to answer the question of the 1945 law’s constitutionality.

A second suit raising a similar challenge and filed by Republican legislative leaders is pending before the Michigan Supreme Court, and is now moot.

The governor cast the lawsuits as an effort to strip her of her powers to protect Michigan. Rather, they were rightly intended to restore the authority she unilaterally stripped from the Legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said of the ruling: “This is not a time to spike the ball. It’s time for us to prove, as we have been claiming all along, that we can move from being in fear of COVID to learning to live with and manage through it.

“We stand ready to work with the governor to do what is necessary for Michigan to lead by example in transitioning our state by informing, inspiring, and enabling citizens to do whatís necessary and responsible.î”

House Speaker Lee Chatfield tweeted, “We will now continue our partnership with our governor. We will work through this challenge as our Constitution requires and as we always have in times past — together.î”

That’s the way it should work. There’s no reason the governor and Legislature can’t collaborate to restore the executive orders that make sense, and issue new ones if needed.

All that changes is that the people’s representatives will have input into the decisions impacting their constituents, and oversight of how the governor exercises any powers they give her.

In her dissent, Chief Justice Bridget McCormack wrote her colleagues were engaging in judicial activism, striking a law the Legislature could have rewritten or repealed itself.

She noted that other judicial remedies were available, including challenging whether the current state of the pandemic qualifies as an emergency under the law. That was the course we recommended.

Still, the outcome is welcome and overdue. Representative democracy should not go away in a crisis — that’s exactly when it’s needed most.

In her statement, Whitmer decried the ruling and noted that it doesn’t take effect for 21 days. We hope she comes to the reality quickly that her dictatorial approach to governing is over and recognizes the Legislature’s legitimate role.

If the governor hasn’t already called Shirkey and Chatfield to begin working on a plan for cooperatively managing Michigan through the pandemic, she’s derelict in her duty to the people of this state.

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