Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer conducts a news conference on April 22, 2020. 

(The Center Square) – Michigan United for Liberty (MUFL) filed a lawsuit against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer challenging her authority to issue executive orders.

MUFL is a nonprofit grassroots advocacy organization of almost 8,000 people formed shortly after Whitmer’s first stay-at-home order, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in the Michigan Court of Claims.

The lawsuit challenges the two laws under which Whitmer justifies her executive orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: the Emergency Management Act and the Emergency Powers of Governor Act.

An attorney for MUL, Philip L. Ellison of Hemlock-based Outside Legal Counsel, told The Center Square the lawsuit aims to bring separation of powers back to the Michigan government.

“The whole point of our Michigan Constitution is that the power of the government is distributed between three equal branches and that there’s just no means, whether it’s in law or otherwise, for a governor to act unilaterally as the single head of state,” Ellison said.

Whitmer has used executive orders to change laws temporarily, Ellison said, noting Executive Order 2020-38, which changed Freedom of Information Act laws for months.

“That’s a fundamental change or an amendment to a law, and the only government entity that can do that process is the legislature, not the executive branch, not the governor’s office,” Ellison said.

Ellison said Whitmer could still activate the national guard and direct state responses.

“This lawsuit is looking to restore ... the balance of power to the respective branches, and if the governor needs certain emergency powers, she has got to ask the legislature for them,” Ellison said. “She can’t just assume them automatically, because that’s what a dictator does – just takes them.”

The lawsuit asks the court to declare those two laws as unconstitutional and that Whitmer exceeded her legal authority under Article V of the Michigan Constitution.

Whitmer has issued 51 executive orders this year.

Ellison said this wasn’t a personal attack on government officials, but was an attempt to preserve the structure of government, which has “protected us from wars and emergencies and everything else in the past,” Ellison said. "And there’s no reason we should throw it out now.”

The governor has been ruling the entire state, Ellison said, rather than the elected officials whom Michiganders also chose for representation.

Ellison said the separation of powers brings compromise and the best public policy on behalf of all government representatives.

The lawsuit comes about a week after thousands of protestors gridlocked Lansing to protest Whitmer’s expanded executive order 2020-42 that restricted items for sale in large stores and criminalized operating a motorboat.

Whitmer’s administration didn’t respond to The Center’s Square’s request for comment.

“As everyone says from the legislature to the judiciary to the governor herself, Michigan can handle this. And we will handle this,” Ellison said. “But you don’t have to throw out our principles and our system of government to deal with the crisis.”

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on and Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.