Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 6, 2020
By Thomas Tacoma, The Federalist
The news broke late on Friday that the Michigan Supreme Court had invalidated Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s authority to issue executive orders related to Covid-19 after April 30. This was a victory for the rule of law, for the separation of powers, and for the liberties of the American people (okay, maybe just the people of Michigan).
Whitmer had declared a state of emergency on March 10 and extended it through a series of executive orders, on April 1, on April 30, and afterward. She claimed authority for these actions under the Michigan Constitution and two specific laws: the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945 and the Emergency Management Act of 1976.
The problem for Whitmer was that the 1976 law required the state legislature’s approval to extend a state of emergency beyond 28 days, which Republicans in the legislature refused to do. The same laws apply in Wisconsin, Michigan’s neighbor. Whitmer’s response? Reinterpret the older law to give herself the power to extend the state of emergency unilaterally.
The draconian lockdowns she imposed on Michigan led to protests that attracted national attention in May. These protests were peaceful, although some protestors were armed. But the national media and Democrats in Michigan criticized the protestors as violent right-wing extremists.
The protests drew criticism because the protestors went mask-less and failed to observe social distancing. How selfish of them, and didn’t they care about grandma’s health?
Some critics went further and made religious arguments against the protests, asserting that Romans 13 requires Christians to respect and obey the governing authorities. On this interpretation, the Christians who protested Whitmer’s lockdown orders were actually disobeying God.
The critics were wrong, as the Michigan Court decision shows, but their mistake was more fundamental: Is the application of Romans 13 as straightforward in a republic as it was in the Roman Empire?
The Romans 13 argument for unlimited submission to civil magistrates runs into two chief difficulties. First, American constitutionalism sets limits on the authority of our civil magistrates.
Second, the separation of powers and federalism creates situations in which magistrates will disagree, and well-intentioned Christians may rightly choose to obey one rather than the other. The decision of the Michigan Supreme Court illustrates the reality of both difficulties.
Read more at The Federalist.