Keep Ryan Kelley off November ballot over Insurrection Clause, lawsuit says

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A new lawsuit backed by a liberal group asks the Michigan Court of Appeals to keep Republican gubernatorial hopeful Ryan Kelley off the November ballot, contending that his candidacy violates a constitutional amendment against officeholders engaging in insurrection.

Kelley, a 40-year-old real estate broker from Allendale, is one of five Republicans seeking their party's nomination for governor on Aug. 2. On June 9, he was arrested and charged with four misdemeanors tied to his alleged involvement in the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Kelley has pleaded not guilty. However, the suit, which is backed by Progress Michigan and was filed Thursday, argues that Kelley "engaged in insurrection."

Ryan Kelley at a candidate debate on Wednesday, July 6, 2022.

"It’s simple, really. If you supported and participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection, you should not have the privilege of holding — or even running — for public office,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, in a Thursday press release. "Whether it’s Ryan Kelley or anyone else that was illegally at the Capitol trying to overturn the will of the people, there needs to be accountability."

The suit asks the court to order Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, to "advise voters that Kelley is ineligible to be governor" and to order local clerks "not to count votes cast for Kelley" in the Aug. 2 primary.

In a statement, Kelley labeled the claim that he participated in an insurrection "laughable." He described the allegation as a "charade."

"Yes, I am on the ballot Aug. 2," Kelley said. "Yes. I will be on the ballot Nov. 8. Yes, we will defeat (Democratic Gov.) Gretchen Whitmer and return Michigan to freedom, liberty and prosperity."

He has previously accused government officials of trying to silence him by arresting him over his actions on Jan. 6, 2021. And he has said he didn't enter the U.S. Capitol building.

"There was no crime committed," Kelley said during an appearance on Fox News.

His misdemeanor charges include disorderly and disruptive conduct and knowingly engaging in any act of physical violence against person or property in a restricted building or grounds.

Images from outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, appear to show Kelley gesturing to the crowd of protesters to move toward "the stairs that led to the entrance of the U.S. Capitol interior spaces," according to federal authorities.

On Jan. 6, 2021, supporters of then-President Donald Trump, a Republican, stormed the Capitol building in an attempt to disrupt the congressional certification of the 2020 election, which Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

The new suit says the 14th Amendment prohibits government officeholders who have "previously taken an oath" to support the Constitution from engaging in "insurrection or rebellion." The suit says Kelley took an oath to support the U.S. Constitution as a member of the Allendale Township Planning Commission.

Kelley "has violated the Insurrection Clause" and "is ineligible to appear on the general election ballot," the suit says.

The plaintiff in the case is Oakland County resident Lee Estes. The attorney working on his behalf is Mark Brewer, former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party. Progress Michigan "assisted with research and financial support for the suit," according to a press release.

Ron Weiser, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, said the lawsuit represented Democrats trying to "meddle in our elections."

"This Democrat overreach is nothing but a blatant attempt to shore up Gretchen Whitmer’s reelection chances to set her up to run for president after the disaster she’s been as governor in Michigan," Weiser said.

The suit was filed against Benson, Michigan's top election official, and the Board of State Canvassers.

The filing described it as an "urgent election matter." The Aug. 2 primary is 19 days away.

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.