Michigan Coronavirus Restrictions: Attorney General Won't Enforce Whitmer's Coronavirus Restrictions

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer address the media after several dams breached, in downtown Midland, Mich., May 20, 2020. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Sunday she would no longer use criminal prosecution to enforce the governor’s coronavirus lockdown restrictions after the state Supreme Court found the orders were unconstitutional. 

Other law enforcement agencies or state departments will have independent enforcement authority over coronavirus safety measures, the attorney general’s office said. 

Nessel’s announcement came on Sunday, two days after the state Supreme Court ruled in a split decision that governor Gretchen Whitmer’s orders were unconstitutional.

“In light of the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday, the Attorney General will no longer enforce the Governor’s Executive Orders through criminal prosecution,” Nessel’s press secretary said in a statement posted to Twitter. “However, her decision is not binding on other law enforcement agencies or state departments with independent enforcement authority.”

Nessel’s “fervent hope” is that “people continue to abide by the measures that Governor Whitmer put in place – like wearing face masks, adhering to social distancing requirements and staying home when sick – since they’ve proven effective at saving lives,” the statement added.

The court found on Friday that Whitmer’s extension of emergency declarations used to mandate lockdown restrictions which shut down non-essential businesses in the state were unconstitutional, as she did not have authority to issue coronavirus orders past April 30.

The court found she had illegally drawn authority for months from a 1945 law that doesn’t apply. 

Whitmer expressed disappointment in the ruling in a statement on Friday: “Today’s Supreme Court ruling, handed down by a narrow majority of Republican justices, is deeply disappointing, and I vehemently disagree with the court’s interpretation of the Michigan Constitution.”

“Right now, every state and the federal government have some form of declared emergency. With this decision, Michigan will become the sole outlier at a time when the Upper Peninsula is experiencing rates of COVID infection not seen in our state since April.”

Whitmer noted that the ruling does not take effect for “at least 21 days” and said that her emergency declaration and orders “retain the force of the law.” The Democrat said that past that time frame “alternative sources of authority” will enforce her rulings.

The governor’s press secretary issued a statement on Sunday saying Whitmer was prepared to work with Republicans in the Legislature to find common ground, the Detroit Free Press reported, but added that “she won’t let partisan politics get in the way of doing what’s necessary to keep people safe and save lives.”

“The Supreme Court’s ruling raises several legal questions that we are still reviewing. While we are moving swiftly, this transition will take time,” the statement said.

It continued: “As the governor said last week, many of the responsive measures she has put in place to control the spread of the virus will continue under alternative sources of authority that were not at issue in the court’s ruling. We will have more to say on this in the coming days.”

As of Saturday, the state has seen 127,516 confirmed cases of the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic and 6,801 deaths, according to state data. New cases and deaths have largely remained flat in the state.

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