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High court won't speed Unlock Michigan petition review

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

The Michigan Supreme Court on Thursday denied immediate relief to Unlock Michigan, which sought to force Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to expedite her review of 539,000 petition signatures.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson

The group seeks to repeal an emergency management law the court earlier ruled unconstitutional.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had used the law to marshal a statewide response to the COVID-19 pandemic that spread into Michigan in March.

Whitmer’s policies and initiatives have become a focal point of state and national politics, targeted for criticism by President Donald Trump and the focus of demonstrations, including one at the state Capitol in which guns, nooses and the Confederate battle flag were brandished.

On Oct. 8, the FBI announced arrests of 13 suspects accused of plotting to kidnap Whitmer, and violently overthrow the state government.

In a lawsuit, Unlock Michigan contended that Benson’s review of the signatures is not timely.

"The board must be compelled legally to canvass Unlock Michigan's petition now," according to the complaint filed by the group.

“This court acts swiftly when justice requires it. And plaintiffs have real concerns that they cannot get swift justice anywhere else."

Unlock Michigan submitted its petition signatures Oct. 2 to the Bureau of Elections. After that review, the Board of State Canvassers is charged with deciding whether the group fulfilled the requirements for needed signatures for certification before shipping it to the Legislature.

Unlock Michigan intended for Legislature to adopt the repeal before the end of the year and avoid putting the petition on the ballot while escaping a veto from Whitmer.

If the review is pushed beyond the election Tuesday, the attempt to repeal the emergency management law would face the scrutiny of the newly constituted Legislature, which currently has a Republican majority

Benson's office said the secretary of state will not give preferential treatment to the Unlock Michigan petition or any other, especially when law allows the Bureau of Elections months to process the petition, said Tracy Wimmer, a spokeswoman.

"The Bureau of Elections must direct all of its staff and resources to ensuring successful execution of what may be the most highly anticipated election in a generation, which is taking place in the midst of a global pandemic that is requiring the bureau to provide unprecedented levels of support to every one of the 1,600 local election clerks across the state," Wimmer said.