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Judge declares ‘constitutional rights not absolute’ in upholding Michigan stay-home order

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during the adjutant general change of responsibility ceremony, Lansing, Mich., Jan. 1, 2019 (Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Andrew Layton/released).
April 30, 2020

A Michigan judge has refused to block Gov. Whitmer’s stay-home order, which he deemed as “necessary” and constitutional despite admitting its infringement on constitutional rights.

Court of Claims Judge Christopher Murray ruled on Wednesday against a lawsuit brought by five Michigan residents who argued that the order was abusive and a violation of rights of due process. “Most, if not all, individual constitutional rights are not absolute and are subject to a balancing with the countervailing state interest,” Murray declared in justifying the order.

“It is true that this measure is a severe one, and greatly restricts each of our liberties to move about as we see fit, as we do in normal times,” Murray admitted. “But the governor determined that severe measures were necessary, and had to be quickly implemented to prevent the uncontrolled spreading of the virus.”

Murray justified the infringement of rights by describing the order as temporary and in the public’s interest.

“Those liberty interests are, and always have been, subject to society’s interest —society being our fellow residents. They — our fellow residents — have an interest to remain unharmed by a highly communicable and deadly virus,” Murray wrote.

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Murray further declared that Whitmer does not have “uncontrolled, arbitrary power.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a statement after the ruling, expressing her satisfaction with Murray’s ruling, adding that Whitmer’s order “has always been to protect human life.”

Whitmer had issued a stay-at-home order on March 23, approximately two weeks after the state confirmed its first coronavirus case. The order suspended all activities deemed “not necessary to sustain or protect life.”

On April 1, Whitmer expanded the order and declared a state of emergency. However, in another order on April 9, Whitmer banned all travel between residences in the state, aside from a few exceptions, to extend to May 1.

The order prohibited Michigan residents from traveling between homes in the state unless caring for another individual or pet, visiting a nursing home or healthcare facility, attending a funeral or a court-ordered child custody appearance.

The order also threatened violators with a misdemeanor, the least severe of which is punishable by up to 93 days in jail, according to Michigan law.

The order has now been extended to May 15, and some nonessential businesses are permitted to reopen.