Friday, June 22, 2012

Detroit Free Press Editorial, June 9

Stall tactics bring shame on court

Delay is the time-honored refuge of lawyers who know they are holding a losing hand. But when ostensibly nonpartisan judges postpone justice for the sole purpose of advancing their own party's political interests, their actions invite contempt for the entire judicial process.

That's precisely what three Republican state Court of Appeals judges did Friday when they properly struck down a cynical challenge to the voter referendum on Michigan's controversial emergency manager law, but then delayed the ruling's implementation in a transparently political effort to frustrate the referendum campaign.

A group called Stand Up for Democracy collected more than 225,000 signatures for a citizens initiative that would overturn Public Act 4, which gives emergency managers appointed by the state vast new powers to administer distressed cities and school districts.

We've opposed efforts to repeal PA 4, but we're satisfied that those seeking a referendum on the law have met the legal requirements to place the issue before voters. So we were troubled when two Republicans on the state Board of Canvassers refused to certify the measure on the specious grounds that the typeface in which the petitions were printed failed to meet the legal type size prescribed by Michigan law.

Like Michigan Elections Director Chris Thomas, we were unpersuaded by the claim of Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility that the typeface two typographers certified was compliant with the 14-point standard was actually fractions of a millimeter too short.

Even more persuasive was the Court of Appeals own 2002 ruling that "all doubts as to technical deficiencies or failure to comply with the exact letter of procedural requirements" should be "resolved infavor of permitting people to vote and express their will on any proposal subject to election.

That's the precedent Republican Court of Appeals Judges Kurtis Wilder, Kirsten Frank Kelly and Michael Riordan reluctantly cited to reach the inescapable conclusion that the Board of Canvassers was bound to place the financial manager law on the November ballot.

But instead of simply applying the law, all three judges expressed the wish that they could ignore the inconvenient precedent and invited a larger panel of Court of Appeals judges to overturn it. So much for impartiality.

If those seeking to block the initiative think the law controlling the case is wrong, they should appeal to the state Supreme Court. The only point of creating an intermediate appellate hurdle is to frustrate the petitioners.The full Court of Appeals should waste no time in ordering the state to enforce the will of 225,000 Michiganders who've clearly signaled their desire for an up-or-down vote on PA 4. Respect for the rule of law will brook no more stall tactics.