MI Lawmakers Closed Capitol Ahead Of Protest, Leaving Damp Demonstrators On The Lawn

Demonstrators protest in Lansing, Michigan, during a rally organized by Michigan United for Liberty on May 14, 2020, to protest the coronavirus pandemic stay-at-home orders. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP) (Photo by J... Demonstrators protest in Lansing, Michigan, during a rally organized by Michigan United for Liberty on May 14, 2020, to protest the coronavirus pandemic stay-at-home orders. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP) (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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May 14, 2020 3:05 p.m.

At the end of Wednesday’s session, Michigan state lawmakers chose not to reconvene until next week ahead of a protest billed as “Judgement Day” at the Lansing capitol on Thursday. 

New precautions taken amid the coronavirus pandemic leave the capitol building shuttered to the public when the legislature is not in session and committees aren’t meeting.

As a result, the protesters — around 200 at their peak, per the Michigan State Police — had to wave their signs and axes outside on the soggy lawn beneath a persistent drizzle. 

The adjournment also spares lawmakers from some of the tensest scenes from the last protest, when armed demonstrators entered the building and yelled at them from the public galleries above the chamber floors. 

Since then, the Michigan State Capitol Commission has taken up the question of whether to ban guns from the capitol.

Attorney General Dana Nessel wrote in a formal opinion that the commissioners do have the authority to bar the weapons. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) called on the panel to delay its decision until members could talk it over with members of the legislature and the police. The commission ultimately voted to establish a special committee to examine the issue, leaving the current gun allowances in place for Thursday’s protest. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who has been the subject of violent threats from some in Facebook groups supporting the protest, said she was “very disappointed” in the Commission’s move. 

Sen. Dana Polehanki (D), who told TPM after the last round of protests that the presence of the armed protesters was “nerve wracking,” introduced a resolution Tuesday to call for a ban of all firearms in the capitol, except those carried by law enforcement. Some of her fellow Democrats also gave floor speeches on the need for action.

Shirkey, on the other hand, put the onus on Whitmer and Nessel to urge capitol police to arrest those illegally brandishing their weapons rather than taking the “cowardly” route of a ban from the commission. He had previously denounced the protesters who used “the threat of physical harm” to intimidate others as “a bunch of jackasses.”

Nessel responded to his suggestion on Twitter.

Lawyers for the legislature and governor will virtually meet Friday for oral arguments on the overarching debate about Whitmer’s executive authority. The Republican-controlled legislature sued Whitmer earlier this month for extending her stay-at-home order without legislative approval. She maintains that she doesn’t need it under the state’s emergency laws. The current stay-at-home order is scheduled to expire May 28.

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