Eric Esshaki says it’s impossible to obtain the 1,000 signatures needed to qualify for primaries with a shelter-in-place order in effect.
A Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives has filed a lawsuit against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, claiming a shelter-in-place order intended to curb the spread of novel coronavirus is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit, says The Detroit News, was filed by Eric Esshaki, an attorney from Birmingham, Michigan. Esshaki is hoping to challenge U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI) in the upcoming general election. But in order to certify his candidacy and appear on the Republican Party’s primary ballot, Esshaki first needs to gather at least 1,000 valid petition signatures by the afternoon of April 21st.
“Governor Whitmer’s stay-at-home order has made it impossible to obtain the number of elector signatures by April 21st,” the lawsuit says.
Michigan—along with some 30 other states—has issued guidance ordering residents to stay home in order to curb the spread of novel coronavirus. People are allowed to go outside for a limited number of reasons: obtaining groceries, getting fuel, or reporting to an “essential” job. There are also provisions permitting outdoor activity and exercise.
Esshaki claims that shelter-in-place orders, coupled with existing political procedures, violates a number of constitutional guarantees, including the freedom of speech, freedom of association, and due process. The suit seeks to force an extension of the petition deadline.
“Defendants’ refusal to extend the deadline places candidates in the position of either having to break the law and cause electors to break the law under threat of criminal prosecution or forgo running for public office altogether,” the lawsuit states.
Esshaki’s complaint—lodged Tuesday in a Detroit federal court—names Gov. Whitmer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Elections Director Jonathon Brater as defendants.
While Benson’s office declined a request for comment by MLive.com, Secretary of State spokesman Jake Rollow noted that the department has publicly announced its intent to extend petition deadlines. Gov. Whitmer, for instance, was asking to extend the deadline by three weeks “while we explore options to modernize the signature-gathering process.”
Esshaki, however, seems keen to frame the problem as part of a Democratic conspiracy. His lawsuit claims that the deadline’s continued enforcement is a “partisan effort [to] protect Democratic members of Congress.”
“The Democratic Governor and Democratic Secretary of State are engaging in an unconstitutional effort to keep Republican candidates off the ballot and prevent them from running against Democratic incumbents,” Esshaki said in a statement.
The Detroit News notes that other candidates—like U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)—are managing to obtain signatures despite the shelter-in-place order. Upton, for example, is simply mailing petitions to his supporters and requesting that they send them back.