Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution v. Secretary Of State
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local ballot measures
The plaintiffs argued the Reform Michigan Government Now proposal should be barred from the ballot because the initiative attempts to modify too many provisions on the Michigan Constitution simultaneously, not allowing voters to consider each change on its own merits. Plaintiffs argue that the measure's 28 constitutional changes can't be posed to voters in a single ballot question and that such a large rewrite should only be handled by a statewide constitutional convention.
Ellsworth said the amendment makes, "literally dozens of changes to the constitution by putting all of them under one umbrella and presenting them to the voters as one amendment." Pirich has, in past years, filed other challenges to Michigan initiatives.
Details and rulings
The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected Aug. 13, 2008, a motion to disqualify judges from deciding the legal challenge to this ballot measure, which would cut judges’ pay and eliminate some of their jobs. Proponents of the proposed amendment argued that seven of the appeals court judges should be disqualified from the case because of conflict of interest. Opponents, led by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, accused Reform Michigan Government Now of shopping for judges.
A three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals cited the "rule of necessity" in rejecting the recusal motion. The U.S. Supreme Court, for instance, has decided a case challenging the constitutionality of legislation that repealed salary increases for federal judges. Judges Bill Schuette, William Whitbeck, and Patrick Meter dismissed attempts to distinguish between judges who would lose pay and those who also would be cut from the bench. Whitbeck is one of judges who would lose his job if the measure is approved. Whitbeck said that his economic interest in the case is minimal, as he could earn more in private practice.
The three-judge panel ruled unanimously on August 20, 2008, that the proposed ballot measure was an illegal attempt to enact a general revision of the state constitution, something that must be done by calling a constitutional convention. The panel called the number and scope of the proposed changes "overarching" and unprecedented. The court ordered a state elections panel scheduled to meet Aug. 21st to deny certification for petition signatures submitted by RMGN.
RMGN spokeswoman Dianne Byrum called the decision a "travesty of justice" by "judges (who) have shown they will do anything to protect the status quo and their perks." The decision will be appealed, she said. Reform Michigan Government Now asked the state Supreme Court on Aug. 22, 2008, to hold an emergency hearing on the proposal to allow county elections officials time to put the measure on their ballots. The group's challenge argues that seven of the Appeals Court judges should be disqualified from the case because they could lose their judgeships if the measure passes in November. The state Supreme Court heard arguments Sept. 3, 2008. In a 6-1 decision on Sept. 8, 2008, Michigan's Supreme Court said it wasn't possible to communicate in a 100-word summary what the 19,000-word ballot proposal would do. Justice Marilyn Kelly dissented. RMGN spokeperson Dianne Byrum called the decision "judicial activism at its worst."
- Detroit News: "Reform proposal faced lawsuit," July 25, 2008
- Detroit Free Press: "Opponents of political changes to file lawsuit," July 19, 2008
- Reform proposal faced lawsuit
- Opponents of political changes to file lawsuit
- Suit aimed at stopping proposal
- John Pirich files signature challenge to Stop Overspending petitions
- Detroit Free Press: "Michigan court rejects motion to disqualify judges," Aug. 13, 2008
- Flint Journal: "Judge will hear case that could eliminate his job, says Flint Journal columnist Peter Luke," Aug. 14, 2008
- Detroit Free Press: "State Court of Appeals: Proposal to reorganize government won’t see November ballot," Aug. 20, 2008
- Detroit News: "Reform ballot proposal rejected," Aug. 21, 2008
- LegalNewsline.com: "Group asks Mich. government overhaul proposal be allowed on ballot," Aug. 22, 2008
- Associated Press: "Michigan high court hears ballot measure case," Sept. 3, 2008
- Associated Press: "Michigan high court denies ballot measure access," Sept. 8, 2008
- Detroit Free Press: "Court upholds barring proposal to reform government," Sept. 10, 2008