The mosquitos buzzing around Gov. Rick Snyder and the GOP-Legislature these days are wearing black robes.
The Ingham County Circuit Court is making
its presence known these days by raising legal questions about the laws
coming out of the Capitol this session. At least six times in the last
seven weeks, the court has temporarily put the breaks on a Snyder-signed
Their opinions aren’t sticking at the
appellate level, but the Ingham bench — if only for a few days — is
raising public questions about what the heck Snyder & Friends are
The latest example came last week when
Judge Clinton Canady III suspended the immediate implementation of two
new laws out of concern that neither had the required two-thirds support
in the GOP-run state House to make them effective immediately.
He threw down a temporary restraining
order on both laws. One law would stop graduate student research
assistants from unionizing. The second would keep school districts from
taking union dues out of employees’ checks. Neither, he said, should
take effect until next April or until the constitutionality of how the
House conducts its immediate effect vote is settled.
The state Court of Appeals lifted the
restraining order Monday and politely told Canady it would handle the
case from now on. But the House Democrats benefited from a 17-minute
scathing (albeit inaccurate) portrayal of events on Rachel Maddow’s
national MSNBC show.
Why do Ingham County’s judges get all the luck?
Since new laws are generated in the city
of Lansing, most resulting court challenges originate in the Ingham
County Circuit Court, giving our judges a bigger stage to opine on
statewide issues. Back in the 1990s, Judge James Giddings, now retired,
went a few rounds with then-Gov. John Engler for the former’s rulings on
a prisoners’ rights lawsuit.
Now, Chief Judge William Collette has
become Snyder’s sparring partner. Recently, he ordered that financial
review teams — the gubernatorial appointed group that figures out if an
emergency manager should be named for a broke city or school district —
meet in public.
The initial decision and others that
followed created interesting theater this spring as emergency managers
in Flint and the Highland Park School district were pulled from power
only to be put back in by an appellate court.
The Ingham Court’s decisions haven’t all
been for show. After Collette’s decision on the unconstitutionality of a
mandated 4 percent contribution that state employees were ordered to
set aside for retiree health care, Snyder & Friends changed course
and refunded each state employee around $1,000 a piece shortly after the
Collette’s presence also has forced
Snyder to go straight to the GOP-controlled state Supreme Court on two
high-profile questions — the constitutionality of the “pension tax,” or
the elimination of the state income tax exemption on pension income, and
a new law that gives appointed emergency managers the power to alter
The Ingham County Court’s power isn’t a
secret in the legal community, which makes a spot on the bench appealing
to district court judges and local lawyers. It can also generate
interest from statewide interest groups looking to support a particular
candidate — a dynamic we could see this year with Judge Paula
Manderfield opting not to seek re-election.
Here’s a recap of the Court’s most recent rulings.
2/15/12 Collette rules that
emergency financial review teams should meet in public. The Highland
Park School District’s new emergency manager was temporarily removed
from office and the Detroit Financial Review Team began meeting in
2/15/12 Collette overturns a state
law that had scrapped Oakland County’s new commissioner district maps.
While upheld, in part, in the Court of Appeals, the state Supreme Court
struck down Collette’s ruling.
3/20/12 Judge Rosemarie Aquilina
kicks out Flint Emergency Manager Michael Brown for about a week since
the Flint Financial Review Team never met in public. The Court of
Appeals put Brown back into office six days later.
3/20/12 Collette rules the state
cannot enter into a consent agreement with Detroit until March 29, as
part of another maturation of the Open Meetings complaint against the
Detroit Financial Review Team. The Court of Appeals invalidated the ban
three days later and told Collette they’d take care of the matter until
4/2/12 Canady agrees with House
Democrats on their “immediate effect” argument. The Court of Appeals
paused the injunction a week later.
Judge Joyce Draganchuk bans the Detroit Financial Review Team from
meeting to sign a consent agreement with Detroit on the argument that
state law only allows the body to exist for 90 days. The Court of
Appeals lifted the ruling two days later, allowing a consent agreement
to be signed.