September 1, 2010 at 1:00 am

Two tea party groups head to court battle

Appeal in bid to get on Nov. ballot filed; foes vow to respond

A lawyer for tea party members said Tuesday he plans to file a response to an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court by a group calling itself The Tea Party in an effort to keep it off the ballot in November.

John Pirich, also represents the Republican Party, which says it stands to lose some support if The Tea Party gets on the ballot.

"We will file a response in opposition," Pirich said. "I don't want to make a prediction about what courts are going to do."

A spokesman for the Michigan Supreme Court confirmed Tuesday afternoon that an appeal of the lower court ruling was filed.

On Monday, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the group could not appear on the ballot because the word "the" was not in 24-point bold face type on its petitions as required by law. The Tea Party petitions initially were denied by the Board of State Canvassers last week for the same reason in a 2-2 vote.

Michael Hodge, an attorney who has been representing The Tea Party, did not return e-mails and several calls to his office.

Hodge previously has said the type face isn't strong enough to keep The Tea Party off the ballot, given that the group gathered enough signatures.

Mark Steffek, who is listed as the chairman of The Tea Party, could not be reached for comment.

Republicans and tea party activists have called the The Tea Party a Democrat-backed attempt to mislead voters and siphon off conservative votes.

The Tea Party has put up candidates for offices including secretary of state and attorney general, as well as state House races, congressional contests and county commission seats. The debate has irked tea party members from various factions around the state and has energized them to get behind Republican candidates in the November elections, members say.

If the state's high court agrees to consider the appeal, it will be the first chance for the court's new 4-3 Democratic majority to weigh in. Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed Court of Appeals Judge Alton T. Davis to the Supreme Court last week after Justice Elizabeth Weaver resigned. That cost Republican justices their 4-3 edge, although Weaver had increasingly voted with the Democrats before stepping down.

The Associated Press contributed to this report lfleming@detnews.com">lfleming@detnews.com