Depending who you ask, Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law is either an unconstitutional slap in the face to our democratic system of governance, or a life vest for communities drowning in debt. The Michigan Court of Appeals apparently can’t decide whether the organized push to have the law’s removal be a question for Michigan voters in November has been done lawfully or not.
Stand up for Democracy is a grass roots group of political activists who think this law “fundamentally threatens democracy and our local rights.” They enlisted hundreds of volunteers to sign petitions to have the repeal of the law be on the ballot this November.
Their petition encountered a technical challenge in the courts because the font type on their petition was too small. The Court of Appeals panel (there are many, many Court of Appeals judges, but cases are decided by three judge panels that vary on a case-by-case basis) would have ruled against Stand up for Democracy because the type is technically not in compliance with the statute.
However, the panel also acknowledged that a previous Court of Appeals decision from 2002 held that such a failure does not render the petition invalid for purposes of getting it on the ballot. Reluctantly, the panel of judges Kurtis Wilder, Kirsten Frank Kelly and Michael Riordan, admitted they do not have the authority to render an opinion that blatantly contradicts the 2002 case, even if they think it was wrongly decided – and boy do they ever think it is wrongly decided.
I’m kind of torn on this issue. On the one hand, the requirements for type font are no mystery, it’s plain statutory language that Stand up for Democracy could have read and followed. If anything, their decision to use smaller font sounds like they were not able to create a concise message against the EML – big no-no in rhetorical world. On the other hand, the 2002 case law is equally conspicuous and it should have been no surprise that the Court of Appeals ruled the way it did because the doctrine of stare decisis requires them to do so, along with Michigan Court Rules.
I think the right thing to do is to keep it on the ballot and let Michigan voters decide whether or not they think the EML should remain intact as an option for the Governor? What is my gut feeling? I think November’s election would result in the law being upheld. Attacks against it have been leveled from principled positions of democracy and rule of law. I just can’t find myself believing this tactical approach is going to be enough to convince 50.1% of voters in November that this merits reversal. Michigan has already shown before that it is willing to vote in a way that harms “other people” but “not me” when it voted in favor of adding constitutional amendments that discriminate against gays and lesbians. The arguments then were also on the ideology and democracy angle.
People respond to action when they feel threatened. So far the EML isn’t seen as a threat to everyone. It’s a threat to “those people” who made “bad decisions” so voters are less likely to feel compelled to support repeal of the law. The proponents of the law have taken a page right out of the Scott Walker playbook and turned it into a divide and conquer effort. The Court’s decision itself is evocative of this mentality – “gosh if it weren’t for the dumb opinion in 2002 we’d get this right.”
I think the Emergency Manager Law is a threat. To me. To you. To your doctor. To your safety. To your schools. I won’t talk to you about liberty and democracy, because frankly that argument won’t win. EML might as well stand for Everyone Must Leave because I refuse to live in a city that is ruled by one.