News & Politics

This Michigan City Leader Faces Punishment for Protesting Whitmer's Coronavirus Restrictions

In this image provided by the Michigan Office of the Governor, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the state during a speech in Lansing, Mich., Monday, April 6, 2020. (Michigan Office of the Governor via AP)

On April 15, Royal Oak City Commissioner Kim Gibbs traveled approximately 90 miles to Lansing, Mich., to protest the restrictive stay-at-home orders issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.). In response, her colleagues filed a motion to censure her and demand her resignation, claiming she had violated her oath of office, Whitmer’s orders, and “her duty to protect the public health and safety.” The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) responded with a demand letter, explaining that this kind of retaliation would violate the Constitution, and TMLC would swiftly respond with a lawsuit.

“It is astonishing that the City Commission seeks to condemn Commissioner Gibbs and destroy her reputation, livelihood and political career because she exercised her Constitutional and God-given rights to express her views on a matter of grave importance,” Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel at TMLC, writes in the demand letter shared with PJ Media.

In the letter, Thompson warns the other members of the commission that “any action taken to censure Commissioner Gibbs, or in any way punish her for attending the demonstration held at the State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan on April 15, 2020, is a violation of her procedural and substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and her rights to freedom of speech, association and assembly under the First Amendment.”

“Should the City Commission proceed to censure Commissioner Gibbs pursuant to the Resolution on the agenda, we will have no alternative but to file a federal lawsuit against the City Commission and its individual members to seek a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, compensatory damages, punitive damages and legal costs,” the letter warns.

Mayor Pro Tempore Patricia Paruch filed the resolution on Thursday, offering it as part of the agenda for Monday’s meeting, The Detroit Free Press reported. Commissioners Sharlan Douglas and Kyle DuBuc supported the resolution.

The resolution accuses Gibbs of having “willfully travelled approximately ninety miles from her home in Royal Oak to Lansing, Michigan” and “willfully attended a large public rally.” Paruch claims that “there is pictorial and video evidence that at multiple times Commissioner Gibbs stood or walked in close proximity to other event attendees without obeying the order to maintain a distance of at least six feet from other individuals and without wearing a mask or other face covering as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.”

Thompson told PJ Media that while members of the Royal Oak City Commission are non-partisan, there are 5 liberals and two conservatives on the commission. He said Gibbs protested Whitmer’s orders because “she is upset that the governor’s executive order was destroying a lot of small businesses in Michigan.”

Thompson also said Gibbs consistently followed social distancing measures to the best of her ability. “Commissioner Gibbs did not violate any law nor did she violate the governor’s orders,” he argued. In fact, the Michigan State Police reported that they did not issue a single citation at the protest for violating Whitmer’s social distancing rule.

“One of the points in the resolution they have censuring her was that she wasn’t wearing a facemask,” the lawyer noted. “At the time there was no executive order mandating people wear facemasks. That order was signed last week.”

Indeed, Whitmer issued the facemask order on Friday, stipulating that people must “wear homemade, non-medical grade face coverings when they enter enclosed public spaces.” The governor’s website explains that “[p]eople won’t have to wear face coverings when they’re taking a walk in the neighborhood, but when they go to the grocery store, they should be wearing one.” The order also does not assess criminal penalties for failing to wear a mask.

“Commissioner Gibbs is being punished for participating in the grand design of American democracy. Neither the Governor nor the Royal Oak City Commission can suspend the United States Constitution,” Thompson said in a statement. Americans have a right to protest, and TMLC will defend Gibbs’ exercise of this core freedom.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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