In a long-awaited ruling, a Michigan appeals court today said that the font size on a petition to overturn state Republicans’ souped-up emergency manager law is too small, but that the referendum should go on the ballot anyway. The court wrote, in an essence, that the statutes require them to consider that the people circulating the petition tried to comply substantially with the requirements, and thus their signatures on it should count.
That’s weird part number one. Weird part number two is that the court then stayed its own ruling so it can poll all 28 members of the appeals court on whether to form a special seven-member panel to consider the case. Eclectablog, a Democratic activist and blogger, calls it a stalling move. He writes:
This delays even further any final ruling. By doing this, they reduce the amount of time opponents of PA 4 will have to get out the vote for the cause and, conceivably could delay a ruling for so long that it might be too late to get on the ballot no matter what the ruling. Keep in mind that, no matter what the final decision is, it will likely go to the state supreme court.
And it’s true that this matter is dragging on. The hyper-partisan Board of State Canvassers, with its competing conflicts of interest, deadlocked on the petitions back on April 26. The appeals court heard the case on May 17, and folks expected a decision within a week or so. The referendum would go on the November ballot, and at this point every week counts.
On the other hand, you could also see in this decision signs that Michigan is wrestling with the way it governs. That the elections board threw out the petitions despite sworn testimony from the printer that the font size was right, and having concurring internal advice from a Michigan State graphics professor, suggests that there are limits to how far a hyper-partisan strategy for running a state can go. Likewise, Michigan judges are elected and come with party ties. If and when the case reaches the state Supreme Court, it’ll find a bench that is whose majority was nominated by Republicans.