Gov. Gretchen Whitmer press conference on COVID, May 20, 2021 | Whitmer office photo
The Michigan Supreme Court on Friday ruled that the Michigan Board of State Canvassers must certify conservative group Unlock Michigan’s petition signatures and move the group’s proposal to the GOP-controlled Legislature, which is expected to adopt it.
It is the second time the state high court made the ruling. In June it said that the board had to sign off on the campaign’s signatures to repeal the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act that allowed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to issue her initial health orders during the COVID-19 pandemic last spring. Those emergency orders were opposed by many GOP lawmakers, business organizations and right-wing groups.
However, Keep Michigan Safe, an organization that has sought to block the Unlock Michigan effort, filed a motion for reconsideration.
In response to that motion, the state Supreme Court ordered the Board of State Canvassers to approve the signatures. The court said the investigatory powers of the Board of State Canvassers are limited and the bipartisan panel “has a clear legal duty to certify the petition.”
The body is set to meet on Tuesday.
Republicans have roundly criticized the board for not certifying the measure. Last month, state Rep. Andrew Fink (R-Adams Twp.) said “it’s beyond appalling and absurd that the Board of Canvassers is defying not only the will of the people, but now the Supreme Court’s orders. The people of Michigan have done their part in lawfully collecting signatures to validate their initiative, yet these clearly slanted bureaucrats insist on standing in the way of our state’s democratic process.”
Under Michigan law, citizen-initiated petitions first go to the Legislature before voters. If the Legislature adopts the measure, the governor cannot veto it.
In April, the Board of State Canvassers, a body of two Democrats and two Republicans nominated by their respective parties and appointed by the governor, deadlocked on whether to approve the group’s petition signatures. The two Democratic members wanted an investigation and new rules on petition collection amid claims of wrongdoing by individuals who gathered signatures for Unlock Michigan.
Unlock Michigan turned in almost 540,000 signatures in October 2020 to overturn the act, which the Michigan Supreme Court overturned that month in a separate action. The Department of Health and Human Services issued epidemic orders after the state high court ruling, although all health restrictions have now been lifted. Keep MI Safe had conducted its own review of the signatures and found “numerous defective signatures, duplicates and errors by circulators.”
Keep Michigan Safe spokesman Mark Fisk was “disappointed” by the state Supreme Court decision.
“[It] ignores Unlock Michigan’s illegal conduct and eradicates the state’s ability to keep people safe during emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic and outbreaks of infectious diseases like anthrax, Legionnaires’, hepatitis and tuberculosis. Unlock Michigan is a brazen political power grab that will put people’s lives at risk and undermine our economy by hamstringing leaders trying to act during public health emergencies for generations to come.”
Fred Wszolek, an Unlock Michigan spokesman, did not respond to a request for comment.
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