The lockdowns imposed by the governors of nearly all states have had enormous effects on the economy and people’s liberties while serving the goal of “flattening the curve” in the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
These lockdowns—unprecedented in the United States in their combined comphrehensiveness, length of time, and level of detail in the control of what activities would be restricted to what degree in response to a disease—were based largely on powers granted by state legislatures more than three decades ago in fighting the rise of AIDS. The constitutionality of the lockdown rules has been challenged both in courts and in the arena of public opinion.
The precedent the lockdowns set in regard to the power of state governors has enormous implications for the size and amount of control over U.S. citizens the various levels of government will wield in the years to come.
To provide information about and perspective on just what the states did and their legal justifications, The Heartland Institute compiled a comphrehensive survey of each state’s laws regarding emergency actions. The document, “Governors, Not Gods: Reining-In Redux,” categorizes the various states’ laws as Really Good, Good, Bad, or Ugly.
The document also identifies state laws passed this year to limit governors’ emergency powers in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
The document was prepared for a webinar of the same name, available for viewing on YouTube, in which the Heartland team argues that state legislatures should reclaim their authority over emergency declarations and “rein in governors run amok.”
“As the days grow shorter and the temperatures dip lower, now is the time to begin exploring oversight over dictatorial governors, and restore power where it rightfully belongs: With we the people, not I the governor,” the introduction to the video states.
The Heartland Government Relations team behind the document and webinar identify several steps state legislatures can take to provide a check on executive power and ensure governors cannot unilaterally make decisions of the magnitude they wielded in imposing the lockdowns:
“These guidelines are meant to plug into, revise, amend existing state statutes. Additionally, these are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
- Resolutions to immediately nullify an emergency proclamation by resolution.
- Resolutions to nullify an emergency proclamation after a certain length of time by resolution. (Fourteen days, 30 days, etc.) Both #1 and #2 can be done with either the approval of both houses of a legislature, or just one house.
- Pass a resolution that requires the governor to call a special session to approve of an emergency proclamation if the legislature is out of session.
- Permit an interim committee or group of legislative leaders to extend or reject emergency proclamations.
- Impose specific limits to executive authority during an emergency proclamation. (i.e., restrict the governor from unilaterally closing businesses, closing houses of worship, or shutting down freedom of the press and the right to bear arms.)
In addition, the Heartland team recommends that state lawmakers “Be mindful of Governors using end-arounds such as redefining emergency, or shifting goals (Flatten the Curve to Slowing the Spread), or renewing orders under the authority of a state health agency.”
Watch the webinar here, or below.