What You Need to Know About Michigan Director of Health Orders and Thanksgiving

Michigan flag depicting Michigan Director of Health Orders and Thanksgiving

On November 17, 2020, you may have received an emergency message on your phone or heard the news. Governor Whitmer has found a way to create lockdown conditions again legally. Michigan is only one of several states renewing or tightening their business and gathering restrictions over surges in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. The new restrictions come right before the Thanksgiving holiday.

According to Governor Whitmer, hospital executives began warning her in the last several weeks they were starting to be overwhelmed by recent cases.

We have been told we can’t gather in any place with more than ten people from outside our own household.

Director of Health 

As you may know, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the law Governor Whitmer was using to issue executive orders and skirt the legislative process unconstitutional.

Whitmer responded by promising she would use the other legal avenues open to her to continue to impose rules she felt would help combat the spread of coronavirus. 

One of those laws is Public Health Code Act 368 of 1978 (MCL 333.2253), which provides legal authority to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to:

  • Control an epidemic to protect public health
  • Prohibit gathering of people for any purpose
  • Establish procedures to be followed
  • Make violations of the order punishable by imprisonment of up to 6 months and/or a fine of up to $1,000

Broad Power

The law that MDHHS Director Robert Gordon uses to limit gatherings has such broad language. It is almost guaranteed to wind up before Michigan’s Supreme Court. Not only does it do what I’ve outlined above. It states: “Emergency procedures shall not be limited to this code.”

It could give Whitmer and her team the power to reach into every household and virtually order people to stay inside and not gather with loved ones for the holidays for as long as “emergency conditions” exist. 

Gordon has asserted he has “unquestionable authority to prohibit gatherings and then to establish procedures that go beyond the prohibition of gatherings.” and that “People getting together is a gathering.”

All of this right before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Legal Challenges

The law, as interpreted by Gordon and Whitmer, directly violates your first-amendment rights, the right to peaceably assemble. On that basis alone, you can expect to see lawsuits against MDHHS filed, and the issue eventually settled in court. 

What are your rights, and how will these new laws be enforced? 

The laws affect Michigan business owners and employers most. Moreover, they are at risk for criminal prosecution by the police and civil fines and licensing actions for failure to comply.

As with the executive orders, a court may render the MDHHS order unenforceable. However, it hasn’t happened yet. 

Thanksgiving Takeaway

Government action may or may not be necessary to limit the current spread of coronavirus cases in Michigan. Will increased restrictions give rise to lawsuits, eventually overturning the broadly-written law giving MDHHS blanket power?

In any case, we hope you and your loved ones find a way to celebrate Thanksgiving this week. I know we could all use the time to rest and be thankful for what we have. Happy Thanksgiving!