Michigan appeals court rejects suit seeking to keep Ryan Kelley off ballot

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected Thursday a lawsuit backed by a liberal group that sought to keep Republican gubernatorial hopeful Ryan Kelley off the November ballot, contending he had engaged in "insurrection" on Jan. 6, 2021.

Judge Michael Gadola wrote in an order that Lee Estes, the plaintiff in the case who was working with the organization Progress Michigan, "did not speedily request relief" and had failed to show that he was entitled to the "extraordinary remedy" he sought.

Kelley, a 40-year-old real estate broker from Allendale, is one of five Republicans campaigning for their party's nomination for governor in the Aug. 2 primary.

Michigan's Republican candidate for governor Ryan Kelley speaks with members of the media after the seventh debate at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan on July 20, 2022.

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, and the case is ongoing.

The suit, which was filed 19 days before the primary election, argued that Kelley's candidacy violated a constitutional amendment against officeholders engaging in insurrection against the government.

The suit said the 14th Amendment prohibited government officeholders who have "previously taken an oath" to support the Constitution from engaging in "insurrection or rebellion." The suit said 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 said.

In the Court of Appeals order on Thursday, Gadola wrote the court expressed "no opinion whether Kelly engaged in 'insurrection or rebellion' or whether Kelley is qualified to serve as a gubernatorial candidate as a result."

Gadola said Lee Estes, an Oakland County resident and the plaintiff in the case, had to show there was "a clear legal right" to keep Kelley off the ballot.

"As conceded by plaintiff, candidate Kelley has only been charged, and he has pleaded not guilty to those charges," Gadola wrote.

Estes had not made a case for the "exercise of our discretion" absent a conviction, Gadola added.

The suit had asked 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 reaction to the court decision, Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, said the rejection was not based on the merits of the case but on procedural grounds.

"We're reviewing options and will likely have more to say at a later time," Scott said.

Kelley has labeled the claim that he participated in an insurrection "laughable."

"Yes, I am on the ballot Aug. 2," Kelley said previously. "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."

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.

cmauger@detroitnews.com