On March 10, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order that declared a state of emergency across all of Michigan. Governors have declared statewide emergencies before — in fact, Gov. Whitmer did it the previous January in response to cold weather. But Executive Order 2020-04 was different: Unlike previous executive orders, it cited a rarely used Michigan law from 1945 as the legal source of the governor’s authority and actions.
That law is the Emergency Powers of Governor Act. It authorizes Michigan governors to proclaim a state of emergency and issue orders “to protect life and property or to bring the emergency situation within the affected area under control.”
According to the act, such emergencies may only be declared and such orders are only in effect, “[d]uring times of great public crisis, disaster, rioting, catastrophe, or similar public emergency within the state, or reasonable apprehension of immediate danger of a public emergency of that kind, when public safety is imperiled.” The state of emergency and related orders continue until the governor declares that emergency conditions no longer exist.
Gov. Whitmer is making unprecedented use of the EPGA. She believes the law allows governors to maintain a state of emergency and issue orders that have the force of law for however long they choose. No other governor in Michigan history has attempted to use the law in this way.
 “Executive Order 2020-04” (State of Michigan, March 10, 2020), https://perma.cc/6KPN-2LDU.
 “Executive Order 2019-01” (State of Michigan, Jan. 29, 2019), https://perma.cc/23BY-DTYT.
 MCL § 10.31(1).
 MCL § 10.31(2).