Four county sheriffs in Michigan have announced opposition to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's restrictive stay-at-home orders, arguing that the governor is "overstepping her executive authority" amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a news release Wednesday afternoon, the sheriffs from Manistee, Benzie, Leelanau, and Mason counties, asserted that they would not strictly enforce the governor's orders but instead "deal with every case as an individual situation and apply common sense in assessing the apparent violation."
The news came as thousands flooded the state capitol Wednesday afternoon in protest of Whitmer's executive orders.
"While we understand her desire to protect the public, we question some restrictions that she has imposed as overstepping her executive authority," the release states. "She has created a vague framework of emergency laws that only confuse Michigan citizens."
Mason County Sheriff, Benzie County Sheriff, Manistee County Sheriff, and Leelanau County Sheriff say they will nex… https://t.co/gf73gycULD— Nick Ponton (@Nick Ponton) 1586975783.0
Whitmer's stay-at-home order began late last month and was initially set to expire on April 13 before it was extended until April 30. With the announcement of the extension, Whitmer also added further restrictions to the order, which previously required all residents to remain at home unless traveling to perform essential work or pick up food and supplies.
The new restrictions prohibited residents from traveling between two residences within the state. Residents were given until April 10 to travel to one of their residences and after that they were required to stay there. Also under the new order, large stores were required to limit occupancy in their stores to no more than four customers for every 1,000 square feet.
The cohort of sheriffs also stressed that their efforts would be on protecting their residents' God-given rights and constitutional freedoms.
"Each of us took an oath to uphold and defend the Michigan Constitution, as well as the U.S. Constitution, and to ensure that your God given rights are not violated," the sheriffs said. "We believe that we are the last line of defense in protecting your civil liberties."
They also said that the statewide focus should be on "reopening our counties and getting people back to work." They noted that this could be done while still operating under U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines such as washing hands and wearing masks.
Whitmer's leadership is clearly being called into question as a result of her actions since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. A petition to remove her from office has been picking up steam since it was launched earlier this week. It now has over 250,000 signatures.
Whitmer addressed the protest during an appearance on MSNBC, telling Joy Reid that the protesters who attended were endangering the lives of Michiganders. Many of them were not wearing masks and some were handing out candy to children with bare hands, she said.
"It wasn't really about the stay-at-home order at all. It was essentially a political rally, a political statement that flies in the face of all of the science, all of the best practices in the stay-at-home order that was issued," she said. "This was a political rally.... that is going to endanger people's lives because this is precisely how COVID-19 spreads."
This article has been updated to include the governor's response.