Why the Michigan Supreme Court decision really matters

Michigan Supreme Court justices

Back in July I wrote a post called “Why Trump v. Vance really matters.” In it, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Donald Trump’s tax records could be subpoenaed by a grand jury in Manhattan. The 7-2 decision (which included Chief Justice Roberts and Trump appointees Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch) was significant because it held that no one, not even the chief executive of the country, was above the law.

On October 3, the Michigan Supreme Court decided that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (who is a Democrat) had violated the state’s constitution by continuing to renew the declarations of a state of emergency, even after the state legislature (which is controlled by Republicans) had refused to legitimize them by approving the extensions. The Court held that, under the various constitutional and legislative acts Whitmer was using to justify her actions, the legislature did, in fact, need to weigh in, and she was not authorized to continue to re-up the declarations on her own authority.

Like the Trump v. Vance decision, it would be naïve to think that this decision wasn’t influenced by partisanship. The decision was 4-3 against the governor, the four justices who voted in the majority are all Republican nominees, and the three who dissented are all Democratic nominees. (Michigan’s Supreme Court is elected on the non-partisan portion of the ballot, but the justices themselves are nominated by political parties.)

Ultimately, though, I think the court made the correct call here, regardless of any partisanship. I confess I was uncomfortable with the idea that one person could continue to make unilateral decisions that affect millions of people in the state. Even though I voted for Whitmer and continue to support the goals and ideals she has expressed, to allow one person to have that kind of power starts to lean toward authoritarianism. Regardless of whether Whitmer’s decisions were in the best interest of the people of Michigan and whether the Republicans are withholding their support just to score political points with voters, the executive and the legislature must work together to pass laws and solve problems.

Is that likely to happen? Eh, probably not. But if certain issues start to cause serious push-back against the Republicans’ contrarianism (such as the extension of unemployment benefits from 20 to 26 weeks, now wiped out by the Supreme Court decision), perhaps it will push them to the table to negotiate with the governor – which is how the system ought to work.

Also, it’s a bit hypocritical to decry Trump’s authoritarian and autocratic tendencies, which if left unchecked could lead the country toward a form of dictatorship, while ignoring when something similar is done at the state level. I know, Whitmer was doing what was best for the health and safety of Michiganders, right? Unfortunately, whoever is in control of the executive office gets to decide that and I don’t think I’m comfortable with the precedent that governors (or presidents) can just issue executive orders because – in their wisdom – it’s the “best thing to do.” As we’ve seen with Trump, it’s often the “best thing to do” for him, his family, and his supporters, not the rest of us.

A popular sticker, especially on pickup trucks, reads “God, Guts, and Guns Made America Great.” Certainly we needed guts to take on the British when we declared our independence and there were plenty of guns involved. To defend that freedom we’ve been involved in other conflicts where again, guts and guns were required. Human history is full of bloody wars and confrontations. The thing that sets the United States apart has been our dedication to the rule of law, however, and that those laws are created by us through our representatives, not handed down from a monarch or a similarly imperial president. If we want the U.S. (and the state of Michigan) to thrive, we the people will need to let our representatives know that we expect them to work together to solve problems, not cause more of them with their petty partisan games.