Advance Notice: Briefs

Judge rules against ban on guns at polls, AG plans appeal

By: - October 27, 2020 4:43 pm

Second Amendment March at the Capitol, Sept. 17, 2020 | Laina G. Stebbins

A Court of Claims judge on Tuesday struck down Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s statewide order prohibiting the open carry of firearms at polling places on Election Day, Nov. 3, which was meant to protect voters and poll workers amidst increased threats and extremism in the state.

Judge Christopher Murray handed down the ruling Tuesday evening, just a few hours after hearing oral arguments in Robert Davis v Jocelyn Benson. The lawsuit had been brought Thursday against Benson, a Democrat, by Robert Davis, who frequently files lawsuits against government entities, less than a week after the secretary announced the rule. Murray was appointed by GOP former Gov. John Engler. 

Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office swiftly signaled that it will appeal the decision.

“We intend to immediately appeal the judge’s decision as this issue is of significant public interest and importance to our election process,” Nessel spokesperson Ryan Jarvi said in a statement.

The primary contention between the parties boiled down to whether Benson’s directive was put in place rightfully within her power as secretary of state, or whether it was an unlawful attempt to legislate over the heads of state lawmakers themselves or improperly institute an administrative rule.

Attorneys for the pro-gun plaintiffs argued the latter, and went so far as to say that Benson is misusing her authority by seizing “quasi-police power” to regulate guns at the polls.

“I will point out that there is a public policy debate [on gun-free zones], but the proper forum is the Legislature, not a single elected official making a last minute decision,” said attorney Steven Dulan.

Murray, while questioning Assistant Attorney General Heather Meingast, remarked that Benson’s directive “smacks of attempted legislation” and might at least partially conflict state statutes. But Meingast insisted that there is space for the Secretary to legally regulate, as there are currently no existing prohibitions or conflicting statutory provisions in place.

“There is a void, within which the Secretary has exercised periphery that we think follows naturally under the Constitution, under our election laws, to provide for the safety and security of voters and election officials and polling places,” Meingast said.

With Murray’s ruling, the judge agreed with plaintiffs and granted their request for a preliminary injunction, stating that Benson’s directive amounted to an administrative rule which requires certain procedures that the secretary did not adhere to.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).