MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — President Donald Trump said again Wednesday that he has the authority to “open up” states that governors have shut down to stem the spread of COVID-19.

“We have the right to do whatever we want,” Trump said.

This comes one day after announcing he could also authorize governors to open up states by May 1.

But legal experts say the president does not have any legal basis for the “total authority” he claims.

There have been 43 governors — Republican and Democrat — who already took drastic action closing down their states to stop the spread of COVID-19. So it may be baffling to hear President Trump claim that its him — and not them — who has “total authority” to reopen their states.

“When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total. And that’s the way it’s gonna be. It’s total. It’s total. And the governors know that,” Trump said.

But that’s not true.

The president does have broad powers in a national emergency, but they are not “total,” as he claims.

Governors like Minnesota’s Tim Walz, who shut down their states, will legally decide when it’s safe to reopen.

“I’m gonna continue in my lane with the expectation that we open when it’s safe to open it,” Walz said.

Walz declared a Peacetime Emergency and Stay-At-Home orders into May.

He says Minnesota will reopen when:

  • There’s widespread testing — 40,000 tests a week.
  • The state can trace whose had the virus, and recovered from it.
  • Those who are contagious are in quarantine.

Unlike other countries, President Trump never ordered a national lockdown. Legal experts say he cannot order states like Minnesota to open back up.

And does not have the authority, anyway.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison says the U.S. Constitution specifically grants powers to states not given to the federal government.

And Minnesota law gives governors extraordinary powers to restrict public movements in a health emergency.

“As Minnesota’s chief legal officer, I’m confident the president does not have the authority to preempt or usurp the governor’s authority to ‘protect the public peace, health and safety, and preserve the lives and property of the people of the state in a peacetime emergency,'” Ellison said. “State law provides that the governor may direct and control the conduct of persons in the state, including entrance or exit from any stricken or threatened public place, occupancy of facilities, public meetings or gatherings, and the the evacuation, reception, and sheltering of persons, among other powers.”

Ellison says if there were any legal challenge to it, his office would defend it with every resource they have.

Here are some of the sources we used for this Reality Check:

https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript

https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html

https://mn.gov/governor/covid-19/news/#/detail/appId/1/id/424820

https://www.archives.gov/files/founding-docs/bill_of_rights_630.jpg

https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/bill-of-rights-transcript

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/13/trump-governors-decision-reopen-183405

https://www.lawfareblog.com/long-history-coercive-health-responses-american-law

https://www.factcheck.org/2020/04/constitutional-experts-trump-lacks-power-to-open-up-the-states/

Pat Kessler

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