Judge upholds governor's stay at home order in constitutional challenge

A Michigan judge rejected a motion for a preliminary injunction filed by five residents against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's emergency orders issued during the COVID-19 pandemic. The residents alleged the orders infringed on their constitutional rights. The court determined a preliminary injunction would be detrimental to the public.

The residents alleged the quarantine and intrastate travel restrictions violated their constitutional rights to due process and the Emergency Management Act is an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power to the governor.

If they had prevailed, the residents wanted the emergency orders to be deemed invalid.

In his ruling, Judge Christopher M. Murray cited precedent that says while our constitutional rights are fundamental, they are subject to reasonable regulation by the state.

“Those liberty interests are, and always have been, subject to society’s interests – society being our fellow residents. They – our fellow residents – have an interest to remain unharmed by a highly communicable and deadly virus, and since the state entered the Union in 1837, it has had the broad power to act for the public health of the entire state when faced with a public crisis.”

Murray stated that issuing injunctive relief “would not serve the public interest, despite the temporary harm to plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.”  

He also stated, "Nor is there any evidence (or even a suggestion) that the stay-at-home provision was a pretext to accomplish some other objective."

As for the constitutionality of the Emergency Management Act, Judge Murray found the provisions of the law are not vague and provide specific criteria for the governor to declare a state of disaster or emergency, as well as specific duties and powers in an emergency. He determined the plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed in a challenge on this claim.

He concluded the decision stating a preliminary injunction would do more harm to the public than to the plaintiffs.

"The Court concludes that entry of a preliminary injunction would be more detrimental to the public than it would to plaintiffs. Although the Court is painfully aware of the difficulties of living under the restrictions of these executive orders, those difficulties are temporary, while to those who contract the virus and cannot recover (and to their family members and friends), it is all too permanent. That is not to say that every new virus will require the action taken here, but given the authority of the Governor to do so in the face of these circumstances, the Court must conclude issuing injunctive relief would not serve the public interest, despite the temporary harm to plaintiffs’ constitutional rights."

The decision was issued Wednesday evening.

“I am pleased with the court’s decision,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said. “This pandemic has already taken more than 3,600 lives in Michigan and many more around the world. The primary goal of the Stay Home, Stay Safe order has always been to protect human life.”

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