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We are approaching the first anniversary of the pandemic in the United States. Over the past year, Governors have exercised sweeping authority to regulate all aspects of human existence. In the early days of the pandemic, I held back my criticism of these acts of suspension and executive lawmaking. I was willing to give Governor's the benefit of the doubt. In the midst of a crisis, the unitary executive is more vigorous and nimble than are legislature. But, as time lapsed, and we began to learn more about COVID-19, my criticisms grew. Legislature could have asserted themselves, but, by-and-large, they chose not to. And during this time, Governors have continued to expand their authorities, with few checks.
State lawmakers across the country, most of them Republicans, are moving aggressively to strip the powers of governors, often Democrats, who have taken on extraordinary authority to limit the spread of the virus for nearly a year.
In a kind of rear-guard action, legislatures in more than 30 states are trying to restrict the power of governors to act unilaterally under extended emergencies that have traditionally been declared in brief bursts after floods, tornadoes or similar disasters. Republicans are seeking to harness the widespread fatigue of many Americans toward closed schools, limits on gatherings and mask mandates as a political cudgel to wield against Democrats.
Lawmakers frame the issue as one of checks and balances, arguing that governors gained too much authority over too many aspects of people's lives. These legislators are demanding a say in how long an emergency can last, and insisting that they be consulted on far-reaching orders like closing schools and businesses.
Governors, unsurprisingly, invoke the need for a unitary executive to respond to fast-moving situations.
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