As I wrote about in my piece for A2Politico this week, the organizers of the recall effort against Republican state Representative Paul Scott was dealt a devastating blow last week when Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Clinton Canady granted an injunction barring the use of petition signatures that have been gathered. This was the only recall effort in Michigan to secure enough valid signatures to put it on the November 2011 ballot.
This particular recall was high-profile because Scott’s anti-teacher’s union activities in the legislature sparked the Michigan Education Assocation to get involved with the recall, donating money and resources to the effort. All of the signatures gathered are now deemed invalid. Recall organizers are rightfully outraged.
Recall organizers say today’s developments are a perfect example of why there is so much public outrage toward government.
“I think the people in Genesee County just got a very good reason to lose faith in government,” said recall organizer and retired teacher Gary Carnahan.
Former Secretary of State candidate Jocelyn Benson wrote a scathing piece this week titled “Trampling on voters’ rights in the Paul Scott recall case”.
The [recall organizers] followed all of the rules, and Michigan Director of Elections Chris Thomas rightly accepted their signatures as valid. The recall question was to be put before the voters this November.
Scott challenged Thomas’s decision to accept the signatures and order the recall, arguing that the signatures were invalid because they were gathered before he had exhausted all of his appeals about the language of the petition.
But that argument had no basis in Michigan law, which clearly states that signatures can be collected after the county board of elections approves the language of the petition. As such, those collecting signatures had no reason to think they had to wait for Scott to finish his appeals of that approval before circulating their petitions.
Nevertheless, if Scott has his way – and it appears he might – voters who followed the rules and successfully organized an effort to recall their state legislator will be out of luck.
Ingham County Circuit Judge Clinton Canady seemed uncomfortable with the decision to grant an injunction against the election, and suggested the appellate court left him with little choice. He offered little explanation beyond that.
And it gets even more bizarre. Imagine if your attorney, charged with defending you in litigation, filed a brief with the court in support of your opponent.
That’s exactly what Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette did in this case. Schuette – the “people’s attorney” – is responsible for defending the voters and the Secretary of State’s office, under which Thomas made the decision to accept the signatures. But while a member of his staff was busy defending the State, Schuette also filed a brief with the court in support of Scott, endorsing his request to cancel the recall election.
How can effective legal representation involve arguing on behalf of the opposing side’s interests? Schuette’s actions in support of Scott’s case undermine his ability to defend his client – the people of Michigan – and violate the basic tenets of integrity that lawyers are expected to uphold.
At the core of these shenanigans, however, is the reality that it is extremely rare for courts to get involved in the business of cancelling or overturning elections – especially if it involves trampling on voters’ rights.
Her piece is well-worth a read and I commend your attention to it. In the meantime, the recall organizers say they will appeal. However, given the Republican dominance of the Michigan Supreme Court, the outcome of such an appeal is unlikely to help them. Even it if does, and it should because it will set a precedent for future recall efforts, it will come too late for the November 2011 election.
Recalls in Michigan are already very difficult. This decision, if it stands and is upheld by the Supreme Court, will make them all but impossible. All a recall target needs to do is continue to file suits in court until they either exhaust their opponents (physically and/or financially) or until it becomes too late due to the timing. If this goes through, we may as well remove the ability to recall legislators from the state constitution entirely because they will no longer be available to our citizenry.
This is a abrogation of the citizens’ constitutionally-protected right to recall their representatives. Like the attempted recall of House Speaker Jase Bolger, the deep pockets of these Republicans and their supporters outweigh the rights of the citizens. Because Republicans literally control our government at every level, there is nothing that can be done.
Like Republican actions across the country to limit voting access, this is another very clear example of the GOP’s concerted effort to cement their power. Without recalls, our only avenue to change is the ballot box. Yet, even there, Republicans have nearly unlimited corporate financing thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. Our electoral system is fast becoming one that is dominated almost exclusively by conservative Republicans and their corporate benefactors. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is playing a key role, it appears.