American Politics

Who Governs? Emergency Powers in the Time of COVID

Hoover Institution Press

In a democracy, the legitimacy of authority derives from the consent of the governed. Constitutions or long-standing norms typically impose constraints on government authority, but under extraordinary circumstances—emergencies—normal and procedural standards can be overridden or suspended. Such was the case when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in the spring of 2020. This book describes the emergency powers that existed in the American states at the start of the pandemic; shows how such powers were implemented; examines how courts, legislatures, and public opinion responded to the use of emergency powers; and considers the resulting tensions they exert on democratic governance.

Contributors provide a background on the legal justification for emergency powers and offer summaries of the executive orders that were in effect as of mid-2020 across the United States and its territories, with special attention paid to California and Texas. They also examine the role of federalism in helping or hampering policy responses tailored to local conditions; review public attitudes about the dangers of the coronavirus and appropriate responses to it; and raise further questions about emergency powers and democratic governance—questions that deserve serious consideration before the next emergency prompts another exercise of such powers.