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Trump declares court ruling on Whitmer's emergency powers a 'BIG win'

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

President Donald Trump on Wednesday declared a "BIG win for the people of Michigan" following the state's high court last week striking down the emergency powers that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer relied on for public-health orders during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Trump's tweet came five days after the Michigan Supreme Court threw out a law that allowed Whitmer to take unilateral actions in response to COVID-19 without the approval of the Republican-led Legislature.

Whitmer responded to Trump by urging him to take action on a long-delayed economic relief package: "Mr. President, millions of hardworking Americans are relying on you for a COVID-19 relief package. Get to work." 

Thestate's high court on Friday unanimously concludedthe Democratic governor didn't comply with a 1976 law that required legislative approval to extend her authority. It ruled 4-3 that a 1945 law was unconstitutional because it gave legislative power to the governor.

The court's decisioneffectively nullified dozens of executive orders that Whitmer had issued to combat to the virus since April, including mask requirements, an expansion of unemployment benefits and workplace safety standards.

President Donald Trump

But the president wrongly implied Wednesday that Michigan churches and schools could reopen as a result of Friday's court ruling.

Church facilities had been exempted from Whitmer's emergency orders when they were used for worship services, and most schools are already holding in-person instruction. 

Many of Michigan's policies for schools during the pandemic were not affected by the high court decision because they were part of a law negotiated with the Legislature.

Trump also falsely claimed that auto companies are "pouring in" to Michigan — consistent with his tendency to exaggerate his contributions to the success of the auto industry.

Michigan has lost one assembly plant and two parts facilities during Trump's presidency. It picked up at least one autonomous vehicle-making plant. 

General Motors Co. closed its Warren transmission factory as part of its new United Auto Workers union contract but revived it this year as a place to manufacture masks for the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ford Motor Co. is closing its Romeo engine plant as part of its UAW contract. Fiat Chrysler closed a Detroit assembly plant in 2017.

FCA is building a new Jeep plant in Detroit on the site of the Mack Avenue Engine Complex; however, the Center for Automotive Research doesn't consider it to be a new factory. There, two facilities are being converted into a new assembly factory for manufacturing Grand Cherokee sport utility vehicles.

In 2019, the Google self-driving affiliate Waymo LLC did open a Detroit plant refashioned from a factory on the campus of American Axle & Manufacturing near Hamtramck. 

While the president likes to take credit for saving the auto industry, it was revived during the Obama administration in the wake of the Great Recession. Auto sales initially recovered during the Obama administration.

At the recent presidential debate, Trump made the unproven claim that Democratic governors were waiting to reopen businesses until after the election. But Whitmer, a Democrat, had gradually lifted restrictions on the state's economy in recent months.

At a Tuesday town hall on Fox 2, Whitmer defended issuing emergency rules during the pandemic and vowed to keep working to prevent the deadly virus from spreading.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

"I'm very concerned about people dropping their guard and thinking the state Supreme Court decision means you don’t have to worry about COVID anymore," Whitmer said.

"Here’s the news: COVID-19 does not care about a court order. COVID-19 does not care about a legislative calendar. It doesn’t care that we’re all tired of dealing with this. It is a continual threat."

Since Friday's court ruling, the state health department has re-instituted mask requirements in indoor public spaces and limitations on gatherings. More orders will be released in the coming days, Whitmer has said.

Her team has asked the high court for clarification and to declare the ruling doesn't take effect until Oct. 30.

Without that transition period, Michigan workers and their families could lose unemployment benefits and "critical measures meant to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus" would "immediately lapse," the governor's office said this week.

But Republican legislative leaders have argued that violations of the state Constitution don't result in grace periods.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, have said they want to negotiate new agreements with Whitmer on COVID-19 policy and have scheduled session days this month for potential action.

Shirkey has rejected the idea of a mask mandate, saying that Michigan residents should instead be educated about the effectiveness of masks and urged to wear them.

Staff Writer Craig Mauger contributed

mburke@detroitnews.com