Academic journal article The Journal of Law in Society

Michigan Republicans' Tactics to Evade Democracy Using Referendum Proof Laws and Other Means

Academic journal article The Journal of Law in Society

Michigan Republicans' Tactics to Evade Democracy Using Referendum Proof Laws and Other Means

Article excerpt

Table of Contents   I. Introduction II. Background      A. History of Referendum Proof Laws: Michigan United         Conservation Clubs v. Sec 'y of State: Strict Construction of         Art. II [section] 9      B. PA 436: The Emergency Manager Law      C. Right to Work Legislation      D. Further Limits on the Rights of Workers, Public Unions, and         Local Control III. Possible Reforms       A. Lessons from Other States       B. Getting a referendum on the ballot       C. Moves to Amend Art. II [section] 9       D. Proposals for Reform  IV. Conclusion 


In response to Michigan's economic crisis, Governor Snyder and the Republicans in power have unleashed an unprecedented series of attacks on working people across the state of Michigan. Snyder has devastated unions, (2) made significant decreases to the local control of public schools, (3) rendered many local governments powerless, (4) as well as made significant cuts to worker access to unemployment insurance and workers compensation, (5) using means that insulate his actions from democratic processes and judicial review. These actions result in the further oppression of the most vulnerable citizens--people of color and the working class.

The Michigan Constitution states: "The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws and to enact and reject laws, called the initiative, and the power to approve or reject laws enacted by the legislature, called the referendum." (6) In order for Michigan citizens to repeal a law, a petition signed by five percent "of the total vote cast for all candidates for governor during the last preceding general election at which a governor was elected" is necessary. (7) If a simple majority of voters is in favor of repeal, the referendum is successful and 10 days after the declaration, the law is void. (8) However, the legislature retains the power to amend the law in the future. (9) Because the powers of initiative and referendum essentially allow the public at large to be co-equal legislators, checks on these powers are common and necessary to prevent a tyrannical majority and to ensure that a state is able to balance its budget. (10)

Increasing awareness and involvement in current events and civic affairs at the local and state level is necessary to stop the right wing attacks on working families. Rather than complacency--or hopelessness--people must become engaged and aware of the political process and the way it impacts their economic well-being. While there is a growing awareness and discontent with the wealth gap in the United States, it is imperative that Michiganders make that discontent known at the polls and in the streets.

The concept of the referendum came about during the Progressive era as a way for people to maintain power over their government. (11) It was prompted by an increased faith in the competency of average citizens to decide political matters directly. (12) This faith in the average citizen came largely from a decreased distrust of corrupt politicians. (13)

Generally, the referendum is reserved for policy bills and bills that contain appropriations are exempt from referendum. (14) The purpose of this exception was to ensure that the state would be able to protect its budget. (15) However, in recent years, appropriations have been added to a number of controversial policy bills, including the emergency manager law and the right to work legislation. (16) The right of the people to repeal a law through a referendum becomes most important when a controversial law is enacted in order to counteract the influence of special interest groups on politicians. However, under the current Michigan Constitution, legislatures are able to bypass this important check by simply appropriating any amount of money to a state institution. (17) This Note will examine the recent increase of appropriations in policy bills and the effect of the resulting disenfranchisement on the people of Michigan, as well as the secondary effects of some of the major policy bills that included referendums. …

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