by Scott McClallen
Hours before Michigan’s indoor fitness centers were allowed to open for the first time in months, a Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel told the gyms to keep their doors shut.
A three-judge panel issued an emergency stay sought by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, freezing the preliminary injunction from U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney that would have allowed gyms to open at 12:01 am Thursday.
“We sympathize deeply with the business owners and their patrons affected by the governor’s order,” the order said. “Crises like COVID-19 can call for quick, decisive measures to save lives. Yet those measures can have extreme costs – costs that often are not borne evenly.”
A group of fitness centers sued Whitmer in May, alleging her orders violated their constitutional rights.
Judges Julia Smith Gibbons, Deborah Cook and Chad Readler wrote that, although the plaintiffs risk losing their businesses, Whitmer’s interest in curbing the spread of COVID-19 is “at least equally significant.”
“Shaping the precise contours of public health measures entails some difficult line-drawing,” they wrote in the eight-page decision. “Our Constitution wisely leaves that task to officials directly accountable to the people.”
Mahoney had previously approved reopening gyms after 13 weeks of forced closure, writing that the state appeared to have “no real or substantial” basis for keeping indoor gyms closed to protect the public health while swimming pools, nightclubs and salons could reopen under restrictions.
Scott Erskine, a managing Partner at Erskine Law representing more than 150 fitness centers, told The Center Square they respect the court’s decision but believe Whitmer still lacks rational proof that gyms should stay shuttered.
Erskine said he thinks the court based its decision based on a citation about an outbreak in a dance class in South Korea.
“That was the only rationale that the governor cited in her brief keeping gyms closed. Not data in the United States. Not science. An outbreak in a foreign country from February,” Erksine said in an email. “Meanwhile there have not been any reported outbreaks in gyms in the U.S., either pre-Covid closures or in any of the 45 states that have allowed gyms to reopen.”
Erskine argued that gyms could open safely and benefit stressed Michigan residents seeking to stay healthy.
“My clients are in the business of helping people be healthy. Gyms today are cleaner and more sanitary than most businesses,” Erskine said.
“My clients can scientifically prove that they help people with obesity, hypertension and diabetes, three of the comorbidities that lead to complications with COVID-19. My clients can also scientifically prove that the fitness industry helps ease stress, anxiety and depression, three conditions from which many in our state suffer today.”
Tiffany Brown, Whitmer’s press secretary, applauded the last-minute change.
“Today three Republican-appointed judges got it right: in the fight against a global pandemic, courts must give governors broad latitude to make quick, difficult decisions,” Brown said in a statement. “The governor will continue to take the actions necessary to save lives.”
Gyms in parts of Northern Michigan opened on June 10. Whitmer has said she plans to reopen gyms, movie theatres, and other activities by July 4 if COVID-19 trends downward.
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.