Governors and the powers of the State

Overview of government trifectas by state as of 2019. photo courtesy of Ballotpedia

On May 22, President Trump made a statement during a press conference regarding houses of worship as an essential business. 

“Many millions of Americans embrace worship as an essential part of life,” Trump said during the conference. “The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, for this weekend,” he said. “If they don’t do it I will override the governors.”

Trump’s remarks bring to light the discussion of power and the roles of a president and a governor. When it comes to a leader’s role, whether state or federal, facts, responsibilities and power should be well defined.  

The role of a governor

Governors are elected officials who serve as the chief executive officer of their state. There are 50 governors representing a state and five governors representing commonwealths and territories as reported by the National Governer’s Association (NGA). A list of governors and their state affiliations can be viewed at Ballotpedia.

As chief executive of their state or territory, a governor is responsible for overseeing the executive branch of their state. While many roles translate from one state to another, a governor’s responsibilities can vary depending on the state’s constitution and legislation. 

As reported by NGA, most gubernatorial terms or office of the state governor, are four years, with the exception of New Hampshire and Vermont with a two-year term. States except for Oregon provide an impeachment process, however, processes can vary among states.

Governors play two broad roles in relation to state legislatures NGA states. A governor can call special legislative sessions and more commonly, coordinate and work with state legislatures in: state budgets, executive and judicial appointments, legislative oversight and passing legislation.  

As a chief executive officer for their state, governors have the authority to place executive orders. Such power is provided to the governor through the U.S. Consitution and can enable state leaders to manage issues including environmental impact, hiring, create investigative committees and assert emergency powers demanding immediate attention. 

Defining governance during a health emergency

The role of a governor, according to the NGA during an emergency is to ensure safety and sufficiently prepare for any cause. The four stages utilized in emergency management are: prepare, prevent, respond and recover. Along with implementing these stages, governors also maintain communication between emergency experts and the public. In general, issues regarding emergencies are typically held at the state level according to NGA, except for emergencies or disasters that attract worldwide media attention.

In an article by Reuters fact check, the legality of a governer closing businesses and religious institutions is explained. Reuters first points to a claim that populated on Facebook which stated governors do not have the authority to shut down businesses, religious institutions and place stay-at-home orders without “legislative due process and consent.” Reuters further explains that this so-called claim is found to be false. 

Reuters and other various sources such as Politico and USA Today referenced the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In short, this amendment states “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,” according to the National Constitution Center.

In other words, a president cannot supersede a governer’s right to make a call regarding the safety of the state. Anthony Romero of the American Civil Liberties Union in an article by Politico stated President Trump’s remark was more of a political strut than a fight for religious freedom. 

“The states are accorded great deference and, in fact, the governors are the ones who are in the saddle on most of these judgment calls, notwithstanding the president’s thoughts and desires,” Romero told Politico. 

What are states doing now?

As the pandemic continues to strike the lives of Americans, power at the state level has been more prominent. According to the American Bar Association (ABA), governors during health emergencies are able to implement emergency measures that in recent times have not been commonly used. 

When it comes to the safety of the public, there are several general health guidelines governors can implement. The ABA explains governors can order quarantines to segregate those exposed in order to limit the spread, as well as place a stay-at-home order with the exception of essential workers. Governors are also able to impose curfews according to the ABA if necessary.

Such actions have been implemented across the nation. As of May 19, Business Insider has reported at least 40 states which had placed stay-at-home orders are now slowly allowing businesses to reopen, and five states that have not loosened stay-at-home restrictions. 

Across the nation, governors are easing restrictions as states slowly reopen. The New York Times provides an updated list along with graphics depicting states that have reopened or are in the process of doing so. While many states are slowly reopening, some states have yet to reopen but have induced regional reopening as well as some states still maintaining stay-at-home orders.

States reopening

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, along with Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, has begun reopening the state since May 15 and May 17 respectively according to The New York Times. Along with other governors, reopening the state entails food and drink, retail and entertainment. However, all decisions of what can reopen are dependant upon the governor of that state. 

States with regional reopening

In some states, governors are allowing certain counties of the state to reopen. California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stated on the governor’s website, some regions of California may reopen if they meet the state’s readiness criteria. This includes a low prevalence of COVID-19, meeting testing and contact tracing criteria, and preparedness within the health care system as stated on the governor’s website.

Other states implementing regional reopening include Michigan, New York and Washington.

States shut down

Meanwhile, some states such as New Jersey are yet to reopen. Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey has allowed certain businesses to reopen but the state remains locked down since March 21. The state is set to reopen June 5 The New York Times reported.

From continuing to stay at home as much as possible to attending church if permissible, Americans can continue to follow CDC health guidelines and updates on its website

While a governor’s role may look somewhat different, their responsibilities remain the same. For many governors, the pandemic has provided a unique meaning to the responsibilities of a state leader. Despite its challenges and criticism, a governor should ensure safety for the people they represent. 


Alliya Photo

Alliya Dulaney is an intern for Political Awareness. She is a senior at Northern Arizona University studying journalism with a minor in Mandarin Chinese and is a part of the Honors College. Alliya is an online news editor for The Lumberjack, the school newspaper, and has previously been a features reporter. From reporting to editing, Alliya has an interest in the perception and relationship politics has on journalism and its audience. After receiving her Bachelor of Science in journalism Alliya hopes to be able to continue her work in journalism, wherever that may take her.

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