Michigan SC hears controversial ballot measure case

Chris Rizo Sep. 3, 2008, 12:00pm

Michigan Supreme Court building

LANSING, Mich. (Legal Newsline)-- The Michigan Supreme Court heard an appeal Wednesday from proponents of a proposed ballot measure that would cut judges' salaries and reduce the number of top-level jurists and trim the size of the state Legislature.

Earlier this month, a three-judge panel threw the proposal backed by Reform Michigan Government Now off the November ballot.

Proponents said if the measure is not placed on the Nov. 4 ballot it would fetter citizens' ability to amend the state constitution.

Andrew Nickelhoff, attorney for the proposal's supporters, told the justices that if an appeals court decision barring the measure from the ballot the ruling will "open a Pandora's box of unintended consequences."

Nickelhoff said the decision would "set up the court as a gatekeeper to the ballot box."

The appeals court three-judge panel said since the proposal was a "general revision" of the state constitution the ideas had to be considered in a constitutional convention. The justices also said the measure has a "reach and expanse never before seen" in Michigan constitutional amendments.

Critics charged Wednesday that the measure has several unrelated questions within it and therefore violates the single question rule for ballot proposals.

If the measure passes, the Supreme Court's two junior members -- Justices Stephen Markman and Robert Young -- would lose their posts Dec. 20.

Opposed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the ballot proposal would also eliminate seven appeals court judgeships while adding to judges at the circuit court level.

The proposed ballot initiative would also reduce the salaries of legislators, the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and secretary of state by 25 percent, and limit retirement benefits for those elected officials to no more than what retired state employees receive.

Under the proposal, the state Senate would be reduced from 38 seats to 28, while the House would go from 110 to 82 seats.
The deadline to certify measures for Michigan's November ballot is Friday.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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