How to Steal A State Supreme Court
Goo-goo reforms are hardball partisan politics in disguise.


Jonathan H. Adler

This November, voters in Michigan may be asked to consider a lengthy ballot initiative to revise the state’s constitution. Proposed by a group called Reform Michigan Government Now, the initiative’s ostensible purpose is to restore efficiency and accountability to Michigan government. A look at the fine print, and a recently disclosed strategy document, reveals something altogether different: A stealth campaign to restructure all three branches of government, including the state judiciary, for partisan advantage.

At first glance, the reform initiative is simply a populist reform. The bullet points on the Reform Michigan Government Now homepage say that the proposal will 1) “Reduce the salaries of executive branch officials, legislators and judges”; 2) “End free lifetime health care for lawmakers and bring their retirement benefits in line with other state workers”; and 3) “Increase transparency by requiring elected officials to disclose their income and assets every year.” So far so good, but this is hardly all the initiative would accomplish.

Buried in the text of the 19,500-word ballot initiative are provisions designed to shift partisan control of every branch of Michigan government, including the state courts. Among other things, the initiative would eliminate two seats on the Michigan supreme court and several more seats on the state Courts of Appeals. The constitutional revisions would also cut the size of the Michigan legislature, rewrite the standards for legislative districting, and adopt controversial election reforms, such as no-excuse absentee voting, which has the potential to increase voter fraud within the state. In all, the initiative would rewrite over two dozen provisions in the Michigan state constitution.

Proponents proclaim the ballot initiative is a bipartisan effort to improve Michigan government, but a recently disclosed strategy document revealed a more partisan agenda. According to a PowerPoint presentation drafted by political consultants working for initiative proponents, the ballot initiative’s primary virtue is its potential to hand control of Michigan government over to the Democratic party for at least a decade.

The presentation was delivered to a union leadership conference this past spring. A graduate student intern at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Michigan-based free-market think tank, discovered the slides on the United Auto Workers Region 1-C website. This discovery revealed a breathtakingly cynical stealth campaign to rewrite the state constitution. As the title slide explains, the plan’s true purpose is “Changing the rules of politics in Michigan to help Democrats.”

Reform Michigan Government Now presents itself as a bipartisan good government initiative that seeks to make government more accountable and efficient. Yet according to the presentation, the real problem facing Michigan is not bloated or inefficient government, but the Democratic Party’s failure to control the state legislature and governor’s office.

In order to ensure pro-Democrat redistricting in 2011-12, the presentation explains, the Democratic party will need to control all three branches of government: the governor’s office, state legislature and the judiciary. According to one slide, control of the supreme court is the “most important,” as the court “can overturn redistricting” done by the political branches. It seems judicial oversight is a particular concern because the traditional state redistricting criteria, such as keeping communities together, are “systematically biased against Democrats.”


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