Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has called the Justice Department’s statement of interest an obvious political ploy.
The Justice Department is backing a lawsuit filed by Michigan residents hoping to overturn some of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders on coronavirus.
The Detroit Free Press reports that the Justice Department filed a “statement of interest” in a lawsuit, originally filed in a federal court at April’s end by seven Grand Rapids-area businesses. Collectively, they claim that Whitmer’s orders are unconstitutional, arbitrary, and discriminatory, allowing certain classes of business to re-open while forcing others to remain shuttered.
“Under the governor’s orders, it’s OK to go to a hardware store and buy a jacket, but it’s a crime to go inside a clothing store and buy the identical jacket without making an appointment,” said Matthew Schneider, the U.S. Attorney in Detroit.
Schneider, a Trump appointee, is part of a Justice Department task force which is reviewing the legality of coronavirus orders across the United States.
“As important as it is that we stay safe during these challenging times, it is also important to remember that we do not abandon our freedoms and our dedication to the rule of law in times of emergency,” he said.
The Justice Department, says the Free Press, can intervene in civil lawsuits. By staking its own “statement of interest,” the agency can explain to courts what interest the federal government has in disputes between private parties.
Here, the department is giving its support to the seven businesses rallied against Gov. Whitmer. They include a real estate firm, a property maintenance company, a glass exporter, and an automotive parts distributor.
“The Constitution permits appropriate state and local government restrictions to permit the health and safety of Americans, but it does not permit arbitrary limits that limit the right of all people in our country to be treated equally and fairly by the government,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a statement.
Dreiband, notes the Free Press, is the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
However, Gov. Whitmer has challenged the federal government’s narrative, saying the department’s intervention is a White House ploy designed to “undermine the health and safety of Michigan residents.”
Whitmer is among presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s top picks for a vice presidential candidate. As such, her handling of the coronavirus crisis has come under intense scrutiny from high-ranking Republicans, including President Donald Trump.
“It is crystal clear that this challenge is coming directly from the White House, which is ignoring the risk of a second wave of the virus and pushing too quickly to roll back public health guidelines,” Whitmer said in a statement.
“We know that will only prolong the pandemic and make the economic pain that much worse for Michiganders,” she said. “No matter what happens, I will always put the health and safety of Michiganders first.”
The Free Press adds that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision bolsters Whitmer’s position. In a 5-4 ruling, the justices denied an injunction against California’s emergency orders.
“The notion that it is ‘indisputably clear’ that the government’s limitations are unconstitutional seems quite improbable,” the decision said.