Executive Emergency Powers: The Stability of Accountability


September 2, 2020 12:01PM

In recent years, it seems nearly every aspect of society has become fixated on the federal government and national politics. However, as history is apt to do, we may be seeing the pendulum swing the other way. In addition to changing how we shop, eat, work, and communicate, the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing increased focus on state and local policies and powers. With “policing powers,” laws related to the safety, health, and well-being of citizens, nearly completely vested in state governments under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, state policymakers, and particularly governors, have never received as much collective attention as they have during the current pandemic. Governors such as Andrew Cuomo, Gretchen Whitmer, Kristi Noem, and even Tennessee’s Bill Lee have received national coverage of their leadership and varying responses to the pandemic. And we should not be surprised. Thomas Jefferson once said, “In times of peace, people look most to their representatives; but in war, to the executive solely.” In the fight to contain the Coronavirus, governors have issued sweeping executive orders, shut down businesses, and mobilized vast amounts of resources. This has led many to question the executive branch’s power and call for a full review in states across the country.

As chief executives, governors and mayors do—and should—have the authority to coordinate and lead their states’ and localities’ response to emergencies. However, no branch’s power is absolute, and checks and balances should exist in order to protect citizens’ liberty, even in times of crisis.