The Varnum litigation team of Aaron Phelps, Kyle Konwinski, Regan Gibson and Jailah Emerson won a highly-public, eleventh-hour victory in the Michigan Supreme Court on a matter affecting the right of Detroit residents to vote on a proposed revision of the city charter.
In a combined opinion in Sheffield v. Detroit Charter Revision Commission, et al. and Lewis v. Detroit Charter Revision Commission, et al., the high court reversed the Wayne County Circuit Court and Michigan Court of Appeals and allowed the charter issue, known as Proposal P, to appear on the ballot and be decided by voters in the Aug. 3 primary election.
At issue was the interpretation of a state statute which states that charter amendments and revisions must be “transmitted to the governor of the state.” The Varnum team’s defense centered on the argument that the statute does not address a situation in which a charter revision is returned without the Governor’s approval, and cited Article 7 of the Michigan Constitution, which provides that laws concerning municipalities be “liberally construed in their favor.”
That reasoning was reflected in the court decision.
“When read together, these constitutional provisions lead us to conclude that, in the face of the statute’s silence as to the legal effect of the Governor’s objection to a proposed charter revision, we cannot interpret such silence as requiring gubernatorial approval before a charter revision is submitted to the electors or as granting the Governor a veto power that cannot be overridden,” the order stated.
The proposed charter revision had been a hotly-contested issue and the lawsuit drew significant public attention. The matter was further complicated by the election timeline. Ballots had already been printed to include the proposal language and many absentee ballots had already been returned by the time of the July 29 decision.