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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Governors and Public Health

David French at The Dispatch:
It’s vitally important to understand that while the federal government possesses far more resources than any state, the president has less inherent authority to respond to pandemics than governors. The federal government is a government of enumerated powers—it has only the powers granted it by the Constitution. Therefore, for the president or Congress to act they have to locate the source of their authority within a specific provision of the Constitution.

The states, by contrast, possess a general police power—an inherent authority that is then limited by both the state and federal Constitution. A governor or state legislature can often act without a specific grant of power. The power to act is presumed, absent a specific limitation.
In 1824, the Supreme Court observed in Gibbons v. Ogden that sovereign state authority includes the authority to enact “quarantine laws” and “health laws of every description.” Think of it like this: Just as the president and the federal government act at the peak of their powers when national security is threatened, America’s governors are often at the peak of their power when public health is at stake.
Thus, as AEI’s Jay Cost noted in an excellent Twitter thread on police power vs. enumerated power, a governor backed by a state legislature has “the sovereign power to make you go home if you are a menace to ‘public health.’”

Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns at NYT:
Since the coronavirus began spreading, the governors have taken a lead role in issuing strict guidelines and stern warnings, asserting themselves in ways that only highlighted the initial inaction and lack of seriousness from the White House.
Nick Everhart, an Ohio-based Republican strategist, went even further, predicting that the severity of the virus would prompt “a shift from the political-outsider candidate era — where public service, having been in office and branded a career politician was a liability — to an era where that competence and experience of understanding how to manage government is seen as a plus and important litmus for handling the next crisis.”
The durability of partisanship in American history, even in times of crisis, and deep mistrust of institutions may test such an assessment. Most voters may return to their usual habits after the virus has been contained.
But for now, the country is turning to governors, some of them little known on the national scene, for reassurance and leadership in a fashion that sharply breaks from the Washington-centric lens through which government has been viewed in a period of national and celebrity-oriented politics.
Some governors have been slow on the uptake.

Paul LeBlanc at CNN:
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who faced swift backlash since tweeting a photo of himself and his children at a crowded restaurant Saturday, declared a state of emergency on Sunday as the state announced its eighth case of coronavirus.
In the now-deleted tweet, Stitt said, "Eating with my kids and all my fellow Oklahomans at the @CollectiveOKC. It's packed tonight!"
His post runs counter to the warnings of public health officials who are encouraging the public to stay home and practice social distancing as a way to contain the spread of the virus. As of Sunday, there was more than 3,000 cases of the novel coronavirus in the US, according to government agencies and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Brad McElhinny at WV Metro News:
Gov. Jim Justice announced on Tuesday evening that West Virginia has its first confirmed case, which he said was identified in the state’s Eastern Panhandle.
Justice also announced, as other governors have, an order shutting inside service for restaurants, bars and casinos starting at midnight. He said delivery and takeout would remain available.
Just yesterday, when other governors were shutting down restaurants, Justice said some aspects of life could remain normal. “Go to the grocery stores. For crying out loud, go to the grocery stores. If you want to go to Bob Evans and eat, go to Bob Evans and eat.
Justice has been urging West Virginians to practice “social distancing” — scrubbing hands, coughing into sleeves, staying a few feet apart.