Term limits reform headed to Nov. ballot after Michigan Supreme Court rejects challenge

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The Michigan Supreme Court denied challenges levied against a ballot proposal that seeks to revise Michigan's term limits, a decision that removes one of the last obstacles to the plan appearing on the November ballot as Proposal 1.

In a brief order Wednesday, the high court denied East Lansing economist Patrick Anderson's challenge to the structure and wording of the ballot initiative "because the court is not persuaded that it should grant the relief requested." 

Justice David Viviano, in a concurring statement, acknowledged Anderson's challenge to the amendment's dual purposes was one the court had wrangled over previously.

But Viviano said the constitutional requirement that an amendment has a single purpose establishes no hard and fast guidelines for determining a single purpose.

"The test is not rigid, and the purpose can be broadly conceived — but not so broadly that it requires a reexamination of our entire Constitution," Viviano said. 

Anderson and a group of former state officials had challenged whether a ballot proposal with dual purposes — such as revising term limits and codifying financial disclosure requirements — could survive scrutiny and appear on the November ballot.  

Anderson, who helped pass the current term limit rules in 1992, also questioned whether the 100-word summary approved by canvassers accurately described the effect of the amendment.

In a statement Wednesday, Andreson said he was disappointed the high court didn't directly address his allegation that the "legislature deliberately hid a term limit repeal behind a veneer of 'disclosure.'"

"We appreciate Justice Viviano’s thoughtful statement in the order, which recognizes the serious issue of whether future constitutional amendments can involve multiple subjects," Anderson said. "Viviano’s concurrence invites a future case on dual-purpose amendments proposed by the citizens. We wish the justices had seen the danger apparent in this proposal by the legislature."

Rich Studley, the former CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and co-chair for Voters for Transparency and Term Limits, celebrated the decision and called attempts to block the proposal an effort to maintain the "status quo."

"We are very pleased that the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously rejected this lawsuit and have allowed Proposal 1 to be on the ballot and decided by the people," Studley said in a statement.

Patrick Anderson, one of the authors of Michigan's 1992 constitutional amendment creating term limits for state legislators, speaks against a proposal to change the term limits law on Aug. 19 at a State Board of Canvassers meeting in Delta Township west of Lansing.

Proposal 1 on the November ballot would alter Michigan's 1992 voter-approved term limits and allow lawmakers to serve 12 years overall in Lansing, with the potential for all of their years to be spent in the House, all in the Senate or split between the two chambers.

The 1992 term limits amendment limited legislators to serving three two-year terms in the House and two four-year terms in the Senate for a maximum of 14 years in the Legislature.

Under the proposal, starting in April 2024, lawmakers, the governor, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state would be required to submit annual financial disclosures, details of which would be worked out by the Legislature.

Among other things, the ballot proposal would require these elected state officials to publicly report their assets, a description of liabilities, sources of income, gifts, positions held, future employment agreements and travel reimbursements.