Oh my: Michigan legislature calls special session-- to strip Whitmer of emergency powers

Couldn’t happen to a nicer petty martinet, nor at a better time. Winston Churchill once wrote that bad kings make for good law, and Michigan’s legislature might put that into action in a special session starting today. After Whitmer’s arbitrary and capricious COVID-19 shutdown order put the state’s unemployment at the highest in the nation, the legislature wants immediate oversight over Whitmer’s handling of the crisis. And they want to start reviewing bills to restrict the powers that she may have abused:


In the midst of the continuing spread of the coronavirus in Michigan, the Michigan Legislature has scheduled a special session for Friday to create an oversight committee to examine how Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has responded to the crisis as well as consider bills that would strip the governor of some of her powers.

The extraordinary move, at a time when Whitmer is looking to extend her stay-at-home order past its May 1 expiration and encouraging all Michiganders to confine themselves to their homes as a way to stop the spread of the coronavirus, is a sign of an escalating rift with Republicans in the Legislature, who are eager to have her reopen the state’s economy. …

The Senate also will consider a pair of bills that would repeal the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act, which gives wide power to the governor to declare a state of emergency in times of “great public crisis.”

Another bill would amend the Emergency Management Act of 1976, which allows the governor to declare a state of emergency for up to 28 days, to reduce the number of allowable days to 14.

It’s worth noting that the legislature will end up putting these tasks on itself in the future if they pass these bills. That’s probably as it should be, but at least at the moment, Michigan’s laws make it pretty easy for the legislature to avoid hard votes and time pressures in real emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. In such a situation, the legislature would need to immediately come into session to issue statutory restrictions, and they’d still have to negotiate those with the governor, who — regardless of it being Whitmer or not — would be able to argue that the legislature is tying his/her hands. Be careful what you wish for is another pretty good piece of advice, even if Winston Churchill never wrote it.


Whitmer might still miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, however. She threatened to veto any bill that limits her authority, which is certainly a governor’s prerogative — but is likely to enhance her imperial rep while essentially sticking her with all of the political blame going forward, too:

“…. that takes any authority away from me,” eh? L’etat, c’est Gretchen?

Anyway, at least this is how laws and regulations should get put into place. That structure prevents the kind of nonsensical diktats that Whitmer has issued over the past few weeks, such as prohibiting people from gardening or planting on their own property and moving back and forth between their own houses. After promising some changes yesterday, Whitmer rolled out an extension to her order last night to push it out to May 15, but got rid of a couple nonsensical restrictions:

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Friday extended her stay-at-home order through May 15 as the Midwestern state battles to control the coronavirus pandemic, but lifted restrictions so some businesses can open and the public can participate in outdoor activities such as golfing.

The measure, which also allows use of motor boats and traveling between residences in the state, immediately replaces one that was scheduled to expire next week, according to the governor’s executive order.

“Social distancing is our best weapon to defeat this enemy,” Whitmer said in a statement. “With new COVID-19 cases leveling off, however, we are lifting some of the restrictions put in place in the previous order. I want to be crystal clear: the overarching message today is still the same. We must all do our part by staying home and staying safe as much as possible.”


Let’s also be “crystal clear” that the bar on moving between homes and operating one’s own boat had nothing to do with “social distancing.” Neither of those, nor the restrictions on gardening and planting, had any rational relation to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Whitmer banned those activities because banning them suited her own tastes, and then sneered when people objected to the overreach. To underscore that point, Whitmer refused to include abortions in a bar on elective surgeries, even though the point of that bar was to preserve masks and gowns, which abortion clinics use up in those elective surgeries.

This just proves the wisdom of distributed power between elected branches of government, but it also might prove the folly of considering Whitmer as a viable running mate for Joe Biden. It’s going to look a bit odd for Biden to pick her just as the legislature strips her authority for abusing it, especially if the idea is to improve Democrats’ chances of winning Michigan in November. Once the masks get stripped from petty martinets, it’s tough to put them back on again.

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John Stossel 12:00 AM | March 01, 2024