LANSING, Mich. (Paul Egan and Dawson Bell, Detroit Free Press) - The Michigan Supreme Court today ordered three challenged ballot proposals onto the Nov. 6 ballot but blocked a fourth -- a proposal to authorize eight more Michigan casinos.
The court's decision means voters will be asked to decide the fate of five proposed constitutional amendments and whether to retain one state law (on emergency managers) when they go to the polls this fall, the busiest state ballot in a generation.
The three proposals ordered on the ballot today by the court would require a statewide vote on a new public bridge to Canada, enshrine collective bargaining rights in the constitution, and require a two-thirds legislative supermajority for state tax increases. Two others - to protect the unionization of home health care workers and increase renewable energy standards - and a referendum on the emergency manager law had already been certified.
Today's decision was unanimous, except for a split on the casino proposal, which the 4-3 majority declared could not be certified because its drafters failed to warn petition signers and potential voters that it would diminish authority written into the existing constitution for the Liquor Control Commission.
In today's ruling, the court emphasized that it was important not to erect artificial barriers to the right of citizens to amend the constitution by petition drive (as each of the proposals does).
Opponents had sought to bar the proposals from the ballot, arguing that their drafters had failed to include language identifying other sections of the constitution that would be affected by their adoption, thereby leaving petition signers and potential voters in the dark about their implications.
But the court said that only when an amendment directly changes an existing provision or nullifies it altogether was the so-called re-publication of the existing provision required.
Today's ruling could have far-reaching implications for future ballot initiatives, as the justices tried to spell out a clear set of guidelines for aspiring petitioners to follow.
In the short term, it means the loss of several millions of dollars in television advertising that was anticipated in a showdown between the casino expansionists and defenders of existing casinos in Detroit and those owned by Indian tribes.
Emily Palsrok, a spokeswoman for the group pushing expansion, said the court's decision was disappointing, but an only temporary setback.
The liquor license language contained in the proposed amendment (and identified as a fatal flaw by the court) was not an essential part of the proposal, and can easily be re-written, she said.
"We'll be back," Palsrok said.
The court heard oral arguments on the cases on Thursday.
The Board of State Canvassers has scheduled a Friday meeting to finalize the Nov. 6 ballot, just ahead of the final deadline for doing so.
Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or firstname.lastname@example.org