After the Michigan Court of Appeals struck down Detroit’s Proposal P this week, the state’s high court is stopping a decision to remove the measure from the August primary ahead of Friday’s ballot printing deadline. But the Michigan Supreme Court has yet to determine if it will consider the Detroit Charter Revision Commission’s appeal.
With the stay in place ahead of the printing deadline, the language of Proposal P will likely exist in some form on the ballot. But whether a vote on the measure will count will be determined by the state Supreme Court. Attorneys for the city have indicated that a digital version of the ballot is scheduled to be submitted to ballot printers by the end of day Friday.
“Dominion [Voting Systems] is supposed to finalize Detroit’s ballot today. But I think folks have been through this rodeo before. I think this isn’t the first time that ballot questions were up in the air at the last minute.” —Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia
“Dominion [Voting Systems] is supposed to finalize Detroit’s ballot today,” said Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia. “But I think folks have been through this rodeo before. I think this isn’t the first time that ballot questions were up in the air at the last minute.”
In a 2-1 vote, Michigan’s Court of Appeals on Thursday rejected the Detroit Charter Revision Commission’s request to place the question on the Aug. 3 primary ballot. The courts ruled that the commission failed to address certain legal arguments and found that removing the proposal from the ballot was in the powers of the trial court.
The appellate court also ruled that the proposed revised charter cannot go to voters without Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s approval. That decision is key to an argument made by attorneys working to keep the proposal off the ballot. Mayor Mike Duggan and others in his administration are also opposed to the proposed charter.
Whitmer has indicated that she will not review other versions of the charter. But attorneys for the Charter Revision Commission argue that the governor’s approval is not required under the Michigan Home Rule City Act. The Michigan Attorney General’s office has also supported that stance in a legal analysis directed to the commission.
The state Court of Appeals had one dissenting opinion on Thursday. Judge Karen Fort Hood said while she “takes no issue” with much of the majority’s opinion, she believes the commission has the authority to place Proposal P on the ballot. Fort Hood writes that that Michigan constitution gives broad power for local control and that voters should be allowed to consider the proposal.
The Detroit Charter Revision Commission appealed the decision, hoping the Michigan Supreme Court will keep the question on the ballot and that the state’s high court will support its three-year effort to reshape the city’s government.
Activists Say Politics Stifling Efforts
Proposal P could overhaul the city’s governance structure. And it’s been challenged since the Detroit Election Commission approved the ballot question last month. After a lawsuit was brought before the Wayne County Circuit Court, Chief Judge Timothy Kenny directed the city to remove the proposed charter from the primary ballot. Attorneys with the Detroit Charter Revision Commission filed an emergency petition to reverse that judgement.
On Friday, a broad coalition of activists called on the Michigan Supreme Court to push Detroit’s charter ballot question forward to voters.
Brandon Jessup, of progressive public policy group Michigan Forward, says while Detroiters are making a proactive attempt to shape city government both political parties are stifling their efforts.
“This is about inactivity by Democrats to support people of color across this state that works better for them. We’ve asked for this for over 45 years,” he said.
Peter Hammer, the Director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University, along with other law professors filed an amicus brief in support of placing the charter question to voters. Hammer said while there is ambiguity in the law, the courts’ decisions are based on a prejudiced view of the people of Detroit.
“They don’t value democracy for Detroiters. And they will use a whole wide variety of smoke and mirrors and legal construction tactics to get to a result that is pre-determined,” he said.
Members of the commission spent the last three years drafting a new charter, which would fundamentally reshape how Detroit’s government functions. Charter Revision Commissioner Denzel McCampbell said Detroiters were involved throughout the process.
“Residents came to the commission and said that they did not feel that they had enough of a voice in city government or that their elected officials were listening to the issues that they had,” he said.
The Detroit’s People Platform pushed to add affordable housing measures in the proposed charter. Kea Mathis, an organizer with the collective, said the state Supreme Court should protect the city’s right to vote on Proposal P.
“We can’t go out like this. Not the nation’s largest Black majority city,” Mathis said.
The proposed charter also includes new policies on public transit, environmental justice and water affordability. Detroit City Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López says removing the charter question is an act of voter suppression.
“Cities around the country have been trying to open their charters to amend it, to amend more of our basic human rights and our basic civil rights into their city’s constitution,” she said.
Outside of the courtroom, there is also a debate about finances. Duggan and others in his administration say implementing the new charter would cost Detroit $2 billion over four years. But a recent analysis by Michigan State University says the new policies would only cost $7 million a year.
Listen: WDET’s Eli Newman breaks down the latest in the legal fight over Proposal P.