Newsom will keep his emergency powers in California

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Yesterday was “Freedom Day” in California, as most of the state’s lockdown restrictions were lifted. But don’t get too comfortable strutting around without a face mask just yet, Californians. Governor Gavin Newsom simultaneously announced that the state of emergency is far from over and he won’t be giving up his executive emergency powers any time soon. He was quick to inform the citizens of his state that that they were still living in a “state of emergency,” and that the novel coronavirus is “not taking the summer off.” What that means is that he can still reimpose any restrictions he feels like if he sees anything happening that he doesn’t like. And it’s clear that the state legislature has no intention of forcibly removing those powers, even as Newsom is facing a recall election over his terrible handling of the pandemic. (Washington Examiner)

Even though Californians will be able to fill stadiums, concert venues, bars and restaurants, Gov. Gavin Newsom says the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over.

Newsom signed orders rescinding mask mandates, business restrictions and the tiered reopening phases that ebbed and flowed with infection and hospitalization rates, beginning Tuesday…

The state’s “Beyond the Blueprint” doesn’t include Newsom relinquishing his emergency powers, which were bestowed to him by a declaration signed in March 2020 and repeatedly renewed since.

“The emergency remains in effect after June 15,” Newsom said at a news conference. “We’re still in a state of emergency. This disease has not been extinguished. It’s not managed. It’s not taking the summer months off.”

Like many states, after battling through a rough winter, California has finally gotten its COVID numbers down to a point not seen since the beginning of the pandemic. And despite serious mismanagement in the establishment of vaccination pods, the state is finally approaching its target goals on that score. Life is supposed to be returning to normal, but Newsom has clearly come to enjoy the autocratic authority he seized last year.

Newsom isn’t the only governor doing this and the phenomenon isn’t exclusive to Democrats. Texas Governor Greg Abbott is keeping his emergency powers until at least July 4th. Andrew Cuomo and Gretchen Whitmer may try to hold on to theirs forever, despite the fact that Cuomo, like Newsom, is facing possible removal from office. So what’s going on with all of these governors and mayors?

People have been pushing back in various places with different degrees of success. Last year, during a speech to the Federalist Society, Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito described these powers as “previously unimaginable.” He went on to say that the restrictions being imposed on the free movement of Americans shouldn’t become a “recurring feature after the pandemic has passed.”

That seemed to be a signal that there was a limit to the court’s patience and that challenges to such mandates might be looked on favorably after the virus was under control. And barring some major, unanticipated backslide, the plague does seem to be under control now. So the governors and mayors who are still dishing out orders right and left need to be asked to account for their actions.

But will they? It’s not as if plenty of us didn’t see this coming. More than a year ago, while examining Gretchen Whitmer’s early power grabs, I wrote the following about the danger posed by these emergency powers.

It’s yet another reminder that officials around the country are currently flexing their muscles in terms of authoritarian power under declared states of emergency. Some of these measures may be necessary, but it’s always dangerous to allow a politician to get a taste of too much power. Some of them tend to become addicted to it.”

I’m not trying to claim to be a modern-day Nostradamus here or anything. I’m just saying that this was predictable. Absolute power is a very addictive drug and it requires tremendous strength of character to surrender it once you’ve had a taste. And there’s another famous quote about “absolute power” that we should keep in mind. It’s not just time for life to “return to normal” for the rank-and-file citizenry. It’s time for the government at all levels to be reined in and reminded that they work for the people, not the other way around.