Michigan judge hears latest clash over stay-home orders

The clash in Michigan is the latest feud between Democratic governors who have ordered people to stay home and conservatives who believe the steps are excessive

DETROIT — Republicans who control the Michigan Legislature urged a judge Friday to strike down stay-home orders and other restrictions related to the coronavirus, saying Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer trampled their authority in determining statewide emergencies.

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The clash in Michigan is the latest between Democratic governors who have shut down businesses and ordered people to stay home in response to COVID-19 and conservatives who believe the steps are excessive.

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court this week ruled against Gov. Tony Evers, clearing the way for bars and restaurants to reopen.

The dispute in Michigan centers on two laws: a 1976 statute that gives the Legislature a role in emergency declarations after 28 days, and another from 1945 that grants broad authority to governors.

The House and Senate, which are controlled by Republicans, did not extend Whitmer’s disaster emergency declaration in late April but she acted anyway.

“The governor has acted against the expressed will of the Legislature and is exercising authority that does not exist,” attorney Michael R. Williams argued on behalf of lawmakers.

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Whitmer, he said, believes she can wield sweeping “unbounded” authority without any say from lawmakers. Williams said the 1945 law cited by the governor was aimed at local emergencies, not statewide pandemics.

Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens pressed the governor’s lawyer by asking if Whitmer simply could declare an emergency for her entire four-year term.

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Chris Allen of the attorney general’s office said certain conditions must exist for the governor to act. He said there’s no “blank check.”

Stephens didn’t immediately make a decision. She predicted that her ruling would be appealed to “my big bosses” at the Michigan Supreme Court.

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