Justice Department supports businesses fighting Whitmer’s coronavirus restrictions

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives a May 28, 2020, briefing on coronavirus in Michigan and how the economic hit has affected the state budget. (Courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

Lansing, Mich. (MLIVE) The U.S. Justice Department is weighing in to support businesses fighting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in federal court over coronavirus orders that still have some companies shuttered.

Justice Department officials issued a statement late Friday, May 29, announcing they had filed a “statement of interest” in a federal lawsuit against Whitmer.

“In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor of Michigan has, over the past two months, issued over 100 executive orders that impose sweeping limitations on nearly all aspects of life for citizens of Michigan, significantly impairing in some instances their ability to maintain their economic livelihoods,” according to the statement.

Whitmer quickly issued a response to the Justice Department’s foray.

In a written statement, she said it was “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,”

The lawsuit was filed in late April in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan on behalf of Signature Sotheby’s International Realty Inc., in Birmingham, Michigan; Executive Property Maintenance of Ann Arbor; Intraco Corporation of Troy; Casite Intraco LLC of Troy; and Hillsdale Jewelers.

It alleges that Whitmer’s order to keep “non-essential” businesses closed or operating under severe restriction is arbitrary and discriminates against them because “similarly situated” businesses are still functioning.

Related: Michigan reports 607 new cases of coronavirus, 34 new deaths

Matthew Schneider, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, offered an analogy.

“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. That’s arbitrary,” he said in a written statement.

Schneider said he does not doubt the governor’s good intentions, but said it doesn’t erase the impact on Constitutional liberties.

Friday’s Department of Justice statement included comments from Schneider; Andrew Birge, the U.S. attorney in Grand Rapids; and Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division.

The “statement of interest” makes a point of noting that Whitmer’s actions may violate the commerce clause and equal protections clause of the Constitution.

In her response, Whitmer reiterated that she has followed science and listened to medical experts in issuing her orders. She said restrictions already have been loosed for those in construction, manufacturing, real estate and retail, to a degree.

“But the worst thing we can do is open up in a way that causes a second wave of infections and death, puts health care workers at risk, and wipes out all the progress we’ve made,” she said.

PREVENTION TIPS

In addition to washing hands regularly and not touching your face, officials recommend practicing social distancing, assuming anyone may be carrying the virus.

Health officials say you should be staying at least 6 feet away from others and working from home, if possible.

Use disinfecting wipes or disinfecting spray cleaners on frequently-touched surfaces in your home (door handles, faucets, countertops) and carry hand sanitizer with you when you go into places like stores.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has also issued an executive order requiring people to wear face coverings over their mouth and nose while inside enclosed, public spaces.

Additional information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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