Institute for Justice Calls on Michigan Governor to Open Garden Centers

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · April 16, 2020

As many Americans find themselves sheltering in place at home, home gardening is growing increasingly popular. But in Michigan, thanks to a series of executive orders issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, garden centers, greenhouses, and plant nurseries have been effectively barred from selling to the public through April 30.

On Wednesday, the Institute for Justice sent a letter urging Governor Gretchen Whitmer to reconsider her “unconstitutional prohibition” on selling plants, seeds, and home gardening supplies. “Growing food at home is the surest and safest way for Michiganders to meet their food needs in the midst of the ongoing pandemic,” the letter notes, which is why states like Illinois and Minnesota have recognized garden centers and nurseries as essential or critical businesses. The letter details the harms imposed on both small business owners, who operate in a highly seasonal industry, and on Michiganders, who wish to secure their own “vital source of sustenance and sanity.”

Around the same time that IJ sent the letter to the governor, she appeared on the Today Show, explaining that the restrictions in her executive order were ultimately of no moment because it was snowing in parts of Michigan. According to Whitmer, “The fact that we’re cracking down on people…planting…for a couple more weeks isn’t going to meaningfully impact people’s ability to do it, because the snow will do that in and of itself.”

“There is no inclement weather exception to the Constitution,” said Michael Bindas, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice and author of the letter to Whitmer. “Moreover, much of Michigan is already in or entering prime season to plant vegetable seedlings and transplants, or to start vegetable seeds outdoors. Depriving people of this prime planting window will directly impact their ability to provide sustenance for themselves and their families.”

The letter over Michigan’s garden ban is part of a new effort by the Institute for Justice to expand economic opportunity and counter government overreach during the pandemic. IJ has urged state medical boards in California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia to reevaluate scope-of-practice regulations that ban nurse practitioners from offering their services–even as volunteers–without physician supervision. In Chicago, Washington, DC, and Miami, IJ has launched websites that let locals shop in place from neighborhood businesses, providing both buyers and sellers with a critical lifeline amidst the pandemic. 

And through its National Food Freedom Initiative, the Institute for Justice has secured a landmark reform in Florida that protects the right to garden at home, and liberalized home baking laws in Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, as well as the District of Columbia. 

Although the government has the power to take action during the COVID-19 pandemic, those actions must be reasonable and substantially related to public health,” said Scott Bullock, president and general counsel at the Institute for Justice. “To avoid litigation, we urge the governor to amend or clarify her executive order so that it will no longer impede Michiganders individual liberties.