What a six weeks it has been.
We have endured a pandemic, Great Depression-era unemployment numbers — and the list grows. Now we have a rare, but important constitutional battle before us. It may not seem like it, but a coming court decision could change history. Here is a bit of background:
Near the end of World War II, Detroit was a melting pot. A race riot hit the city. As a result, the Legislature created what was informally known as the Riot Act of 1945 — officially the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act. It allowed the governor the ability to declare emergencies for local areas that had experienced unrest or disasters.
In the early 1970s, the state was looking at flooding much like we have today. Gov. William Milliken and the Legislature felt the state needed more and something that could complement the regional 1945 statute. The 1976 Emergency Act was created, establishing a time frame of 14 days before the Legislature would act to renew or end those powers. In later years, the Legislature gave the governor an extra 14 days to create the present 28-day allowance.
That brings us to where we find ourselves today. The Legislature was working with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the early stages of the pandemic, helping clarify executive orders and appropriating $150 million for testing needs and expanding hospital capacities. These efforts supported her and the swift movement that was needed.
But somewhere just before the second “stay home” order was announced on April 9, communications stopped. At that point the governor decided to go it alone, claiming she could act under the 1945 law that did not require legislative approval.
The question the Legislature is asking the courts to decide is: do pandemics and states of emergency nullify our constitution? I believe that by going around the Legislature, the governor is actively trying to negate the legislative process — one that a Republican governor and Democratic Legislature agreed to update in 1976.
Now before you dismiss me, let me ask these questions: Do we want any chief executive, governor or president declaring a state of emergency into perpetuity for reasons they believe are legitimate? Do we want to allow executive orders which wield the power of law with no debate and no end point?
This state and the country were founded with checks and balances and three branches of government as fundamental pillars. When the executive and legislative branches disagree, the courts must serve as referee.
I believe the governor has misinterpreted our laws. If it’s allowed to stand, it will set a very scary precedent. I support the lawsuit that has been filed against the governor on behalf of the Legislature. It is not a referendum on her abilities. It simply makes the case that she has overstepped her authority, to the detriment of the constitution, the state and its people.
About the author: Rep. Jack O’Malley, of Lake Ann, is in his first term in the Michigan House serving residents in the 101st District, which includes Leelanau, Benzie, Manistee and Mason counties.