AG Wilson To Cities

One governor, not 150 governors

Lee Rogers
March 30, 2020 - 12:14 pm
Electronic highway sign message to drivers on I-85 in Greenville County.

Lee Rogers


(Greenville, SC) – As the old saying goes you can't fight city hall, but what happens when city hall fights the governor.

South Carolina cities and counties that are issuing stay-at-home orders during the Covid-19 crisis are skating on thin ice according to the Attorney General. 

As some larger South Carolina cities impose those orders, essentially closing businesses considered to be non-essential during the Coronavirus outbreak, South Carolina's Attorney General Alan Wilson has a word of caution for mayors; “We have one governor, not a hundred and fifty governors”

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin recently ordered the closure of nonessential businesses, like gyms and hair salons, and banned all public and private gatherings.  AG Wilson says only the governor has the power to issue such an order.

Wilson was a guest on the Tara Show Monday, and said his office has been inundated with questions regarding local municipalities issuing stay-at-home orders while Governor McMaster had avoided taking that step.  Finally a coastal community officially requested a legal opinion from the Attorney General on the legality of local government orders.

The Attorney General told Tara, “The legal team that we have in the AG’s office came to the conclusion that your local cities do have emergency powers, however once a governor of a state issues emergency declaration, then that basically kind of preempts all of the emergency powers that local governments have at that time.”

But it's not the governor's office the cities need to worry about.  Wilson points out that these local officials are opening themselves up to what could be costly lawsuits.

“If the cities, mayors, city councils; if you’re going to go forward, we can’t stop you, I can’t stop you, but do so at your own risk, because if you do this and you violate someone’s constitutional rights or unlawfully imprison someone or destroy a business, then you could be on the hook for damages down the road when a lawsuit is brought.”

You can listen to the complete interview in Monday's Tara Show podcast.

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