EM repeal measure clears hurdle for ballot

June 14, 2012
By

An air of jubilation filled the auditorium at the AFSCME building in downtown Detroit on Thursday as members of the Stand Up for Democracy coalition celebrated a victory in their fight to have Michigan’s emergency manager law overturned.

“Rumors of the death of democracy in Michigan are somewhat premature,” announced coalition attorney Herb Sanders.

The celebration was tempered by the fact that this was, indeed, just one win in a protracted struggle.

The hastily convened press conference came in response to an announcement from the State Court of Appeals that, in essence, it had affirmed an earlier ruling that the ballot measure circulated by proponents in an attempt to repeal PA 4 was in “substantial compliance” with state law and should be allowed to go before voters in November.

The case took a strange twist last week when a three-member panel of the appeals court, after making the substantial compliance ruling — saying that legal precedent mandated that a dispute about the petition’s font size wasn’t significant enough to keep voters from deciding the matter — stayed its own ruling so that all of the court’s judges could be polled to determine whether a majority was interested in seeing a seven-member panel determine whether that precedent should be overturned.

Thursday’s announcement that the seven-member panel wouldn’t be convened indicated that a majority of the judges wanted the precedent to remain in place. In other words, the prevailing thinking among judges on the court of appeals is that, when there are doubts about technical deficiencies or procedural requirements related to a ballot measure, the proper course of action for the courts is to resolve the dispute in “favor of permitting people to vote and express their will …”

In essence, it is an affirmation of basic democratic principles.

The assault on those principles isn’t gong to end with the court’s ruling, however.

The Free Press reported Thursday that the right-wing group challenging the validity of the ballot petitions — which contained more than 225,000 signatures — will petition the state Supreme Court to hear the case.

In the likelihood that the high court agrees with the appeals court findings and the state’s Board of Canvassers is compelled to place the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot, the battle to win the support of a majority of the state’s voters will be fully engaged.

“We’re still in a war,” said Sanders. “We have a significant campaign effort to undertake.”

If the measure does in fact get put on the ballot, the emergency manager act will be immediately suspended until voters have their say.

That raises an intriguing question regarding the consent agreement the city of Detroit and the state recently entered into. Mayor Dave Bing and a 5-4 majority on the City Council signed off on that consent agreement in an attempt to avoid having an emergency manager appointed.

If the threat of an emergency manager is removed from the equation, could that possibly invalidate the consent agreement?

Rest assured, that is a question that will be much discussed should the repeal measure actually make it to the ballot.

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