Justice Department supports businesses suing Michigan governor over coronavirus lockdown

Justice calls Whitmer's restrictions 'arbitrary and irrational'

Updated: May 31, 2020 - 8:43pm

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The Justice Department on Friday came out in support of several Michigan businesses shuttered as part of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's coronavirus lockdown, arguing the Democratic governor's orders are "arbitrary and irrational" and "limit the right of all people in our country to be treated equally and fairly by the government."

The motion was announced in a press release. The department has been following several suits and cases across the country involving possibly illegal measures taken by state governors and public officials as part of the country's response to the pandemic.

Attorney General William Barr last month announced the department's intent to "review state and local policies to ensure that civil liberties are protected during the COVID-19 pandemic." 

In the Michigan lawsuit, seven business owners, including a dental office and a lawn care company, filed a challenge to Whitmer's shutdown orders, which they argue arbitrarily close or restrict some businesses while allowing others to operate largely unfettered. 

Matthew Schneider, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, agreed.

"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. 

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Andrew Birge said the department is seeking to "call attention to the contours of the rights enshrined in the federal Constitution and to counsel against arbitrary restrictions on liberty."

Whitmer's orders have been among the most severe in the country. At times she has variously banned even private gatherings, and has also forbidden state residents from purchasing seeds and paint within home-goods stores. 

The governor's current stay-at-home order extends until June 12, though she has begun to relax portions of that order.