Judge upholds Gov. Whitmer's order closing movie theaters amid coronavirus


  • Emagine Theater, via Google Maps/Street View
  • Emagine Theater in Royal Oak.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order to close movie theaters amid the coronavirus pandemic may stay intact, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

Emagine Theater in Royal Oak filed a lawsuit on June 22 after the state ordered it to halt a planned film festival celebrating Juneteenth. Describing the festival as a “cinema protest,” the lawsuit alleges the order violated the theater’s constitution rights to due process and equal protection.

At the time, Emagine CEO Paul Glantz railed against what he called "hypocrisy" from Whitmer.

“It is okay to walk arm and arm with folks in Highland Park for a photo op in violation of social distancing guidelines, but we allegedly pose a threat to the life and safety of our guests,” he said, referring to Whitmer marching along Black Lives Matter protesters, which was outdoors and everyone was wearing masks. “If there is anything more arbitrary and capricious in governmental behavior, I certainly haven’t experienced it in my lifetime.”

U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney rejected the arguments, saying the order was a reasonable response to a highly infectious virus.

“While the Juneteenth film festival certainly has an expressive element, it is not the speech of the festival that Defendants sought to suppress,” Malone wrote in the ruling. “It is simply the congregation of large crowds, indoors, for hours at a time.”

Maloney added, “It takes only a moment of rational speculation to discover conceivable support for the continued closure of indoor movie theaters.”

Whitmer lauded the judge’s decision.

“Today, the court concluded what we already know: that we must continue taking aggressive action against COVID-19, including limiting large gatherings, to protect Michigan families and save lives,” Whitmer says in a news release. “COVID-19 is still a very real threat in Michigan, and the brave men and women on the front lines of this crisis are counting on us all to do our part. That means wearing a mask while in public, practicing safe physical distancing, and staying away from large social gatherings. I will continue doing everything in my power to protect our families and frontline workers from this virus.”

Movie theaters have been closed since March.

Coronavirus cases continue to rise in Michigan, with more confirmed infections so far this month than all of June. Whitmer warned earlier this week that she may impose more restrictions if the numbers continue to rise.

On Monday, Whitmer strengthened the state’s mask-wearing requirements, making face-coverings mandatory at indoor businesses and in crowded outdoor spaces.

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