Free Michigan from autocratic rule
Michigan’s official state of emergency ended in October when the state Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional because Gov. Gretchen Whitmer extended it several times without the approval of the Legislature. But has anyone noticed?
Instead of going to lawmakers and making a case for renewing the emergency declaration, Whitmer mined the law to find an end-around. She discovered it in provisions that allow the Michigan health department and other agencies to issue the same orders without an emergency declaration.
The court’s scuttling of Whitmer’s authority actually made things worse. The epidemic powers under the Health Department are more vague than either of the emergency laws the governor had formerly employed. As long as the health director has good reason to fear a health threat, he or she has wide ability to limit gatherings, including closing down restaurants and schools.
Today marks one-year since the emergency was declared. And while COVID-19 continues to take lives in Michigan, the emergency orders have outlived their initial justification of slashing the death rate and keeping hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
Deaths from the virus are sharply falling. Hospitals throughout the state are handling their caseloads without strain. Vaccinations are rolling out at a steady pace, with President Joe Biden predicting by the end of spring anyone who wants an inoculation should be able to get one.
And yet still no indication of when Whitmer will relinquish her extraordinary powers.
Over the past 12 months, Michigan residents have lived under varying degrees of restrictions on their civil liberties, depending on the governor’s whims. Her orders have often been arbitrary — kayaking and canoeing OK, motor boating not OK — and applied without defending their logic.
Communication is vital during a crisis, yet Whitmer erected a wall of silence, as if the pandemic relieved her of the obligation for transparency and accountability. Her administration is sitting on Freedom of Information Act requests, including for data on nursing home deaths and the details of former Health Director Robert Gordon’s recent payoff. She limits questions at her press conferences to a few hand-picked reporters and dodges tough inquiries.
When challenged, her response is “science and data.” But the data is far from conclusive that her among the harshest-in-the-nation shutdowns produced better results than those posted by states that took a lighter hand.
Shutdowns may have played a role in reducing transmission of the virus, however, they don’t appear to be the determining factor nationwide in how states fared.
Whitmer’s policymaking has been marked by a stubbornness to pause and reassess. Despite pleading from patient advocates and lawmakers, she stuck with the practice of requiring that nursing homes accept COVID-positive patients longer than the handful of other states, including New York, with similar mandates.
One year is long enough for autocratic rule and the suspension of the checks and balances of regular-order governing. Emergency powers are intended by law to be temporary. They are supposed to go away as the crisis ebbs.
The COVID-19 crisis is ebbing in Michigan. With vaccines going into more arms every day, there is no justification for the governor to continue wielding unilateral power.
Michigan residents and businesses can handle things from here without the heavy hand of the governor on their shoulders.