Emergency Manager Law, Public Act 4 — April 10, 2012 at 7:08 am

More on Emergency Manager law repeal effort being derailed by petition FONT SIZE


Desperation is SUCH an ugly thing

Yesterday I reported that a group known as Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility is challenging the petitions for the repeal effort against Public Act 4 — Michigan’s odious Emergency Manager law. The basis of their complaint is that the font size of part of the petitions is too small.

Bob LaBrant of Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility said the petitions turned in by the pro-repeal group Stand Up for Democracy aren’t legal because the heading is printed in a type that’s smaller than required. A printer’s affidavit says the heading size is correct, but LaBrant contends that “two experienced printers” disagreed.

“It’s somewhere between 10 and 12-point, rather than the 14-point size required, he said, suggesting the type was the size generally used in the body of a letter rather than in a larger heading. Opponents also say the proposal’s summary is “incomplete and misleading” and that the petition language has other glitches.

It turns out that there is some case history on this very topic in Michigan. In 1976 in the case Newsome v. Board of State Canvassers v. Riley, the court decided against the group challenging petitions on a number of fronts including font size.

Plaintiffs’ complaint contains three counts, the first of which alleges that the petitions are statutorily deficient for noncompliance with MCLA 168.482; MSA 6.1482. The statute relied on reads in pertinent part:

“The size of all petitions mentioned in this section shall be 8-1/2 inches by 13 inches. If the measure to be submitted proposes * * *
initiation of legislation * * *, the heading of each part of the petition shall be prepared * * * and printed in capital letters in 14-point bold face type:

* * *
* * *

The full text of the amendment so proposed shall follow, printed in 8-point type.” (Emphasis added.)

The statutory deficiency asserted by the complaint is that the petitions do not have the heading “Initiation of Legislation” above the body of the proposed language. This assertion is true, but on the side of the petition used for signatures “initiation of legislation” appears three times as well as the statement “The full text of the proposed Act appears on the reverse side of this petition”, in dark print. (See Appendix.)

Plaintiffs have demonstrated technical statutory noncompliance under MCLA 168.482; MSA 6.1482 but what is the effect of later statute, MCLA 168.544d; MSA 6.1544(4)? It reads:

“* * * petitions for * * * initiation of legislation * * * may be circulated countywide. Petitions so circulated shall be on a form prescribed by the secretary of state, which form shall be substantially as provided in sections 482 and 544c. The secretary of state may provide for a petition form larger than 8 1/2 inches by 13 inches and shall provide for identification of the city or township in which the person signing the petition is registered. The certificate of the circulator may be on the reverse side of the petition.”

In answering this rhetorical question, we note three things. First, Const 1908, art 5, § 1 spelled out in detail the requirements for an initiatory petition. Second, MCLA 168.482; MSA 6.1482 was passed under that constitution and it has not been amended. That statute represents the attempt of the Legislature to comply with the detailed requirements of the 1908 constitutional provision. Third, Const 1963, art 2, § 9 reserves the power of initiative to the people, but it does not specify the details of the petition. Instead, it leaves to the Legislature the obligation of implementing the section.

We infer from the foregoing a recognition on the part of the drafters and adopters of the Constitution of 1963 that, to be useful and readily available, the initiative power should not be hamstrung by technical petition requirements which have no bearing on the informatory purpose of the petition. By the passage of MCLA 168.544d; MSA 6.1544(4) the Legislature implemented this recognition, and we hold that MCLA 168.544d; MSA 6.1544(4) is applicable to the petitions before us.

What the court appears to be saying is, basically, “These rules weren’t meant to be applied so rigorously that minor infractions should outweigh the importance of the outcome so quitchyer nitpickin’.”

I’m not a lawyer and I don’t play one on the innernetz but this seems to me to be a pretty pertinent ruling and one that bodes well for this petition drive. The unfortunate part is that the Michigan Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court have not been friendly to progressive causes.

Just one reason among very many for us to flush the Republicans out of the legislature, courts and governors office in November.