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CITIZENS PROTECTING MICHIGAN’S CONSTITUTION, Joseph Spyke, and Jeanne Daunt, Plaintiffs, v. SECRETARY OF STATE and Michigan Board of State Canvassers, Defendants/Cross-Defendants, Voters Not Politicians Ballot Committee, doing business as Voters Not Politicians; Count MI Vote, doing business as Voters Not Politicians; Kathryn A. Fahey; William R. Bobier; and Davia C. Downey; Intervening Defendants/Cross-Plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution (CPMC), Joseph Spyke, and Jeanne Daunt seek a writ of mandamus that orders defendants Secretary of State (the Secretary) and the Board of State Canvassers (the Board) to reject an initiative petition filed by Voters Not Politicians (VNP) concerning the formation of an independent citizens commission to oversee legislative redistricting and to not place the petition on the 2018 general-election ballot. Intervening defendants Voters Not Politicians Ballot Committee and Count MI Vote, both doing business as VNP, Kathryn A. Fahey, William R. Bobier, and Davia C. Downey filed a cross-complaint, asking this Court to direct defendants to immediately execute their clear legal duties regarding the initiative petition. We deny the relief sought in the complaint for a writ of mandamus and grant the cross-complaint.
I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
A. THE PARTIES
Plaintiff CPMC is a ballot-question committee. Plaintiff Spyke is a qualified elector registered to vote in Ingham County and is a former paid employee of a political candidate. Plaintiff Daunt, a qualified elector registered to vote in Genesee County, is the parent of a person otherwise disqualified from serving on the proposed commission.
Defendant Secretary is the chief election officer of the state and has supervisory authority over local election officials. MCL 168.21. See also Const. 1963, art. 5, § 3. Defendant Board is a constitutionally created board. Const. 1963, art. 2, § 7. Its duties are established by law. See MCL 168.22(2) and MCL 168.841. The Board canvasses initiative petitions to determine if the requisite number of qualified and registered electors have signed the petition. It makes the final decision regarding the sufficiency of the petition. MCL 168.476.
Intervening defendant VNP Ballot Committee is a ballot-question committee. Intervening defendant Fahey, a qualified elector registered to vote in Kent County, is the founder and treasurer of VNP. Intervening defendant Bobier, who signed the VNP petition, is a qualified elector registered to vote in Oceana County and a former elected member of the Michigan House of Representatives. Intervening defendant Downey, who signed the VNP petition, is a qualified elector registered to vote in Ingham County.
B. THE INITIATIVE PETITION
On June 28, 2017, VNP Ballot Committee filed an initiative petition for the ballot proposal (the VNP Proposal) with the Secretary as required by MCL 168.471.1 After staff at the Bureau of Elections (the Bureau) initially refused to recommend that the petition be approved, VNP redrafted the proposal to further address issues of abrogation and alteration. The Board approved the form of the petition on August 17, 2017, noting that its approval did not extend to the substance of the proposal, the substance of the summary of the proposal, the manner in which the proposal language is affixed to the petition, or whether the petition properly characterizes those provisions of the 1963 Michigan Constitution that have been altered or abrogated.
On December 18, 2017, VNP submitted the initiative petition, supported by more than 425,000 signatures 2 of registered voters, for an amendment to the Constitution to be placed on the November 2018 general-election ballot. Primarily, the VNP Proposal would amend Article 4, § 6 of Michigan’s 1963 Constitution regarding the commission on legislative redistricting by changing the composition of the commission and its administration.3 A new independent citizens commission would have exclusive authority to develop and establish redistricting plans for the senate, the house and congressional districts.
To prevent the VNP Proposal from appearing on the ballot, and before the Board could certify the petition as sufficient or insufficient, counsel for CPMC sent a letter to the Secretary, urging her to reject the VNP Proposal on the ground that it should not be submitted to voters because it was massive and would enact sweeping changes to the Constitution. CPMC contended that it was a general revision of the Constitution and that it therefore could not be accomplished by ballot initiative. Further, the VNP Proposal purportedly omitted multiple sections of the Constitution that would be abrogated by the proposal. CPMC asserted that the Secretary had a clear legal duty to reject the petition.
Counsel for VNP then sent a letter to the Board, requesting that it certify the VNP Proposal for the November 2018 general-election ballot. VNP observed that no challenges to the 428,587 signatures had been filed by the deadline. Further, VNP stated that two separate entities had analyzed the sampled signatures and determined that 466 out of 505 sample signatures were valid, thereby confirming that a sufficient number of signatures support the proposal. VNP indicated that the instant suit by CPMC was irrelevant to the Board’s clear legal duty to certify the VNP Proposal.
On May 22, 2018, the Bureau released its staff report pursuant to MCL 168.476(3). In the report, the Bureau staff recommended that the Board certify the petition.
After plaintiffs filed the instant complaint for mandamus, intervening defendants moved to intervene. This Court granted the motion to intervene and accepted the cross-complaint filed by intervening defendants. Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution v. Secretary of State, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered May 11, 2018 (Docket No. 343517).
The Board notes that it must complete its canvass of the VNP petition at least two months before the November 2018 general election. Const. 1963, art. 12, § 2; MCL 168.476(2); MCL 168.477(1). The Director of Elections also must prepare a statement of not more than 100 words—regarding the purpose of the proposed amendment—for placement on the ballot. MCL 168.32(2).
VNP asserts that its proposal is “a desired means to remedy the widely-perceived abuses associated with partisan ‘gerrymandering’[4 ] of state legislative and congressional election districts by the establishment of new constitutionally-mandated procedures designed to ensure that the redistricting process can no longer be dominated by one political party.” More than a century ago, Chief Justice Morse of our Supreme Court warned that the “greatest danger to our free institutions” occurs when a political party retains its political power by dividing election districts in a manner to give special advantages to one group. Giddings v. Secretary of State, 93 Mich. 1, 13, 52 N.W. 944 (1892) (Morse, C.J., concurring). He explained the danger as follows:
By this system of gerrymandering, if permitted, a political party may control for years the government, against the wishes, protests, and votes of a majority of the people of the State, each Legislature, chosen by such means, perpetuating its political power by like legislation from one apportionment to another. [Id.]
Ninety years later, our Supreme Court commented that “[i]n many states, the most egregious gerrymandering is practiced by the Legislature with the aid of computers to achieve results which will pass muster under federal standards yet favor the partisan interests of the dominant political faction.” In re Apportionment of State Legislature—1982, 413 Mich. 96, 137, 321 N.W.2d 565 (1982). In short, “[i]t is axiomatic that apportionment is of overwhelming importance to the political parties.” In re Apportionment of State Legislature—1992, 439 Mich. 715, 716, 486 N.W.2d 639 (1992). Or, as Senator John Cornyn of Texas once said, “ ‘You can’t take the politics out of politics, and there is nothing more political than redistricting.’ ” 6
We are not alone in analyzing redistricting issues. Challenges to alleged unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering are pending in the United States Supreme Court in two cases.7 Further, suit has been brought in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan to contest Michigan’s existing apportionment plan.8
In the United States, a minority of states employ a nonpartisan independent mechanism for the drawing of legislative districts.9 In most of the remaining states, including Michigan, whichever party is in control of the state Legislature draws the districts.10
D. THE 1963 CONSTITUTION—REDISTRICTING
Under the 1963 Michigan Constitution, the 38 members of Michigan’s senate and the 110 members of the house of representatives are elected according to the district in which they reside. The Constitution sets forth the apportionment factors and rules for individual districts, which are redrawn after the publication of the total population within the federal decennial census. Const. 1963, art. 4.
The apportionment of districts for representatives and senators is not a recent phenomenon: the Michigan Constitution of 1835 addressed apportionment 11 and set forth parameters for representative districting 12 and for senate districts.13 Fifteen years later, Article 4 was revised to provide for the division of a county into representative districts, when necessary, by board of supervisors.14 The 1908 Constitution continued the division of counties into districts by a board of supervisors.15 In the general election in 1952, the voters passed Proposition 3, which amended Articles 2 and 4 of § 5 of the 1908 Constitution to establish senate districts with geographic boundaries that were not subject to alteration based on a population change.16 After the 1961 Constitutional Convention, the 1963 Constitution called for districts to be apportioned under a weighted formula based on land area and population.
Under the current Constitution, senate districts are aligned with Michigan’s counties, each of which is assigned an apportionment factor based on the state’s population as set by the federal census, multiplied by four and the county’s percentage of the state’s total land area. Const. 1963, art. 4, § 2. The Constitution also sets forth particular rules for the dividing of the state into senatorial districts. Const. 1963, art. 4, § 2.
House districts are defined by representative areas that “shall consist of compact and convenient territory contiguous by land.” Id. The districts also are defined by county and based on population. Id.
After one representative is assigned to each representative area as already defined, the remaining house seats are apportioned on the basis of population. Id. Counties that are entitled to two or more representatives are divided into single-member representative districts that are created on the basis of population. If possible those districts should follow city and township boundaries and “be composed of compact and contiguous territory as nearly square in shape as possible.” Id. Representative areas that contain more than one county and are entitled to more than one representative are divided into single-member districts, which adhere to county lines and are as equal as possible in population.17 Id.
Thus, over half a century ago, the Constitution of 1963 established criteria and procedures to appoint a commission to decide the apportionment of legislative districts for the Senate and the House of Representatives. Const. 1963, art. 4, § 6; In re Apportionment of State Legislature—1972, 387 Mich. 442, 450, 197 N.W.2d 249 (1972) (“The people in adopting the 1963 State Constitution, provided the procedure to carry out legislative reapportionment.”). The Constitution provided for an eight-member commission whose purpose was to “district and apportion the senate and house of representatives according to the provisions of this constitution.” Const. 1963, art. 4, § 6, ¶ 5. A new commission would be appointed whenever the Constitution requires apportionment or districting. Const. 1963, art. 4, § 6, ¶ 3. Four members were selected by the state organizations of the Democratic and Republican parties.18 Const. 1963, art. 4, § 6, ¶ 1. The state political organizations also selected a resident from four specific regions, including the upper peninsula and three portions of the lower peninsula—the north, the southwest, and the southeast. Const. 1963, art. 4, § 6, ¶ 1. With two exceptions, commission members could not be officers or government employees and could not serve in the Legislature for two years after the apportionment in which they participated became effective. Const. 1963, art. 4, § 6, ¶ 2. Members held office until the apportionment they worked on became operative. Id.
When a majority of the commission could not agree on redistricting, the members could submit a proposed plan to our Supreme Court. Const. 1963, art. 4, § 6, ¶ 7. The Supreme Court was required to “determine which plan complie[d] most accurately with the constitutional requirements and ․ direct that it be adopted by the commission and published as provided in this section.” Const. 1963, art. 4, § 6, ¶ 7.19
Since the commission’s inception, the apportionment of legislative districts has not been without conflict, causing our Supreme Court to preside over apportionment issues on several occasions. Or, as stated by Justice Brennan:
The constitution creates a Commission on Legislative Apportionment. Four members are Republicans, four members are Democrats. Every ten years the Commission meets. Every ten years the Commission is unable to agree. [In re Apportionment of State Legislature—1972, 387 Mich. at 459, 197 N.W.2d 249 (Brennan, J., dissenting).]
The very first commission after the adoption of the 1963 Constitution illustrates Justice Brennan’s point. In May 1964, our Supreme Court directed the commission to adopt a particular plan when the commissioners could not agree. In re Apportionment of State Legislature—1964, 372 Mich. 418, 480, 127 N.W.2d 862 (1964). The United States Supreme Court then issued Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 84 S.Ct. 1362, 12 L.Ed.2d 506 (1964), ruling that the weighted land area/population formula rules violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. The Court indicated that the states should “make an honest and good faith effort to construct districts, in both houses of its legislature, as nearly of equal population as is practicable.” Id. at 577, 84 S.Ct. 1362.
Our Supreme Court ordered the commission to adopt a different plan in accordance with the ruling in Reynolds; the commission failed to reach agreement, so the Court then ordered adoption of the Austin-Kleiner plan because it most closely aligned with Reynolds in that the plan’s districts contained population as nearly equal as practicable. In re Apportionment of State Legislature—1964, 373 Mich. 250, 251-254, 128 N.W.2d 722 (1964). An original petition was then filed challenging the Austin-Kleiner plan; the Court remanded the matter to the commission. In re Apportionment of State Legislature—1965, 376 Mich. 410, 481-482, 137 N.W.2d 495 (1965). Again the commission could not agree, so again our Supreme Court was called upon to make an apportionment decision. In re Apportionment of State Legislature—1965–1966, 377 Mich. 396, 140 N.W.2d 436 (1966). The Court ultimately dismissed the challenge, id. at 474, 140 N.W.2d 436 (order of the Court), but not before Justice Black suggested that the eight commissioners’ names be placed in a jury box, that seven of the names be chosen at random, and that those seven commissioners be directed to apportion the districts.20 Id. at 413, 140 N.W.2d 436 (memorandum by Black, J.).
In 1972, after the commission failed to settle on a plan,21 the apportionment issue again was before our Supreme Court. The Court decided that the Hatcher-Kleiner plan most closely complied with the constitutional requirements but did not address the constitutionality of the requirements themselves. In re Apportionment of State Legislature—1972, 387 Mich. at 458, 197 N.W.2d 249.
Ten years later, our Supreme Court examined whether the commission’s authority continued despite the holding from the United States Supreme Court that the apportionment rules were unconstitutional and, if so, what standards governed. The Court held that Reynolds invalidated the weighted land area/population formula and that the remaining apportionment rules in Article 4 were “inextricably interdependent” and thus were not severable. In re Apportionment of State Legislature—1982, 413 Mich. at 116, 321 N.W.2d 565. Likewise, the commission’s functions, and the commission itself, were dependent on the rules and could not be severed. Id. The Court added that “[t]he matter should be returned to the political process in a manner which highlights rather than hides the choices the people should make.” Id. at 138, 321 N.W.2d 565.
Thereafter, rather than relying on a commission that was held to be inextricably tied to the apportionment formula negated by the United States Supreme Court, the Michigan Supreme Court appointed Bernard J. Apol, former Director of Elections, to produce maps to conform with the pertinent apportionment rules. Id. at 142, 321 N.W.2d 565. In 1982, the Court adopted Apol’s plan. Id. at 142, 321 N.W.2d 565 (order of the Court entered May 13, 1982).22
Almost 10 years later, in a statement reflecting upon the 1982 decision, Justice Levin indicated that the people were to have adopted new apportionment rules:
Another assumption of the compromise [within the 1982 decision] was that responsible persons would come forth and place on the ballot, and the people would adopt, new apportionment rules in time for the 1992 and 1994 elections. Indeed, that was one of the arguments for non-severability—to highlight the need for a new constitutional provision regarding legislative apportionment. The Court’s exhortation has not been heeded. [In re Apportionment of State Legislature, 437 Mich. 1208, 1211, 463 N.W.2d 713 (1990) (Levin, J., concurring) (citation omitted).]
In 1990, the Legislature failed to arrive at an apportionment. In re Apportionment of State Legislature—1992, 439 Mich. at 723, 486 N.W.2d 639. Lawsuits were filed and, in 1991, our Supreme Court appointed a panel of special masters to accomplish the reapportionment. Id. at 724, 486 N.W.2d 639. This Court ultimately accepted, for the most part, the plan that the masters proffered. In re Apportionment of the State Legislature—1992, 439 Mich. 251, 483 N.W.2d 52 (1992) (order of the Court).
In 1996, the Legislature enacted guidelines for the redistricting of senate and house of representatives districts. See MCL 4.261 et seq. In 1999, the Legislature passed the Congressional Redistricting Act, MCL 3.61 et seq. Thus, after the 1982 and 1992 federal decennial censuses, redistricting has occurred without a commission because the Legislature has decided the districts. With that history in mind, we turn to the VNP Proposal to amend the Constitution to create an independent citizens redistricting commission.
E. THE VNP PROPOSAL
The VNP Proposal seeks to make changes to 11 sections within three articles of Michigan’s 1963 Constitution: Article 4 (legislative branch), Article 5 (executive branch), and Article 6 (judicial branch).23 The majority of those changes are to Article 4, involving the existing commission on legislative apportionment. The VNP Proposal essentially would accomplish the following:
• Create an independent citizens commission regarding legislative apportionment.
• Set forth the parameters for the independent commission regarding its structure, operation, and funding.
• Eliminate legislative oversight over the independent commission, vest original jurisdiction in the Supreme Court regarding challenges related to the independent commission, and create an exception in the power of the executive branch to the extent limited or abrogated by the independent commission.
The VNP Proposal creates an exception to the legislative power of the state senate and the state house of representatives by exempting the new independent citizens redistricting commission from legislative control.24 The VNP Proposal retains the structure of the senate at 38 members elected from single-member districts,25 and it retains the structure of the house of representatives at 110 members elected from single-member districts apportioned on the basis of population.26 However, the VNP Proposal eliminates the existing constitutional provisions in Const. 1963, art. 4, §§ 2 through 5 relating to senate districts and representative areas and their corresponding rules for apportionment.27
The VNP Proposal’s primary change is the replacement of the current commission on legislative apportionment with parameters for a new independent citizens redistricting commission. In place of the eight-member commission, the VNP proposal provides for 13 commissioners; each major political party would have four members and the remaining five members would be self-declared independent voters.28 The pool of candidates would be drawn from eligible registered Michigan voters.29 With certain exceptions, candidates would not be eligible to serve if they were current or former lobbyists, partisan elected officials or candidates, or a relative of a disqualified individual.30
Under the VNP Proposal, commissioners are to be chosen from a pool of applicants, which may include randomly selected voters.31 Applicants must submit a completed application, must attest under oath that they meet the qualifications, and must identify which of the two major political parties with which they are affiliated, or whether they do not affiliate with either party.32
The VNP Proposal sets forth specific parameters and timelines for the application procedure, including that legislative leaders may strike from consideration five candidates from any pool.33 The proposal also designates the funding process and provides for a cause of action should funding not occur.34
The VNP Proposal includes considerable detail regarding the commission’s public hearings and contact with the public. It specifies directives regarding the commissioners’ discussion of commission business, and it aims to make records available to the public.35
The VNP Proposal lists seven criteria for a redistricting plan, giving the most weight to population and geographic contiguity.36 Additionally, the VNP Proposal describes procedures for the commission’s adoption of a new redistricting plan and the publication of its related data.37
Under the VNP Proposal, the Michigan Supreme Court has original jurisdiction regarding the independent citizens redistricting commission to do the following: (1) direct the Secretary or commission to perform their respective duties, (2) review a challenge to any plan that the commission adopts, and (3) remand a plan to the commission for further action if the plan does not comply with the requirements of the Michigan Constitution, the United States Constitution or superseding federal law.38 Only the commission, and no other body, can promulgate and adopt a redistricting plan.39
In Article 5, involving the executive branch, the VNP Proposal continues vesting the power in the executive branch but excepts the independent citizens redistricting commission, noting that the commission’s powers are exclusively reserved for the commission.40 The VNP Proposal alters § 4, involving the establishment of executive branch commissions or agencies, by adding the language “except to the extent limited or abrogated by Article V, section 2 or Article IV, section 6,”41 which are the sections involving the independent citizens redistricting commission.42 With regard to Article 6, concerning the judicial branch, the VNP Proposal leaves intact the power of the branch, except to the extent limited or abrogated by the independent citizens redistricting commission.43
[I]n the very rare case ․ when an ‘initiative petition does not meet the constitutional prerequisites for acceptance,’ a court may find it necessary to intervene in the initiative process. But because the judicial branch should rarely interfere with the legislative process, such cases should be, and are, rare ․ [Coalition for a Safer Detroit v. Detroit City Clerk, 295 Mich. App. 362, 372, 820 N.W.2d 208 (2012) (citations omitted).]
This case is not one of the rare cases in which this Court should intervene.
The people of Michigan long have reserved the right to amend their Constitution. City of Jackson v. Comm’r of Revenue, 316 Mich. 694, 710, 26 N.W.2d 569 (1947); Scott v. Secretary of State, 202 Mich. 629, 643, 168 N.W. 709 (1918). To do so, they may bring an initiative petition before the voters by submitting a proposal to be placed on the ballot. Const. 1963, art. 12, § 2; Wolverine Golf Club v. Secretary of State, 24 Mich. App. 711, 716, 180 N.W.2d 820 (1970) (opinion by Lesinski, C.J.), aff’d 384 Mich. 461, 185 N.W.2d 392 (1971). Any person or organization opposing the submission of an initiative petition may bring an action for mandamus to preclude the placement of that petition onto the ballot. See Hamilton v. Secretary of State, 212 Mich. 31, 33, 179 N.W. 553 (1920); Coalition for a Safer Detroit, 295 Mich. App. at 371, 820 N.W.2d 208. In an exceptional case, a court may deem it necessary to intervene in the initiative process. See Detroit v. Detroit City Clerk, 98 Mich. App. 136, 139, 296 N.W.2d 207 (1980).
This Court has jurisdiction over this original action pursuant to MCL 600.4401(1) (“An action for mandamus against a state officer shall be commenced in the court of appeals ․”). See also MCR 7.203(C)(2).44 The Secretary and the Board are “state officers” for mandamus purposes. See Comm. for Constitutional Reform v. Secretary of State, 425 Mich. 336, 338 n. 2, 339, 389 N.W.2d 430 (1986). Further, the Michigan Election Law provides that a person aggrieved by a decision of the Board may seek relief in the form of mandamus. MCL 168.479.45 Accordingly, mandamus is the proper remedy for a party seeking to compel election officials to carry out their duties. See, e.g., Wolverine Golf Club, 24 Mich. App. at 716, 180 N.W.2d 820 (opinion by Lesinski, C.J.).
This Court has the authority to issue a prerogative writ of mandamus, but mandamus is an extraordinary remedy. LeRoux v. Secretary of State, 465 Mich. 594, 606, 640 N.W.2d 849 (2002); O’Connell v. Dir. of Elections, 316 Mich. App. 91, 100, 891 N.W.2d 240 (2016). Whether a writ issues is within the discretion of the court. See Carter v. Ann Arbor City Attorney, 271 Mich. App. 425, 438, 722 N.W.2d 243 (2006). In a mandamus action, this Court considers whether the defendant has a clear legal duty and whether the plaintiff has a clear right to performance of that duty. Attorney General v. Bd. of State Canvassers, 318 Mich. App. 242, 248, 896 N.W.2d 485 (2016). Specifically, the plaintiff has the burden to show:
(1) a clear legal right to the act sought to be compelled; (2) a clear legal duty by the defendant to perform the act; (3) that the act is ministerial, leaving nothing to the judgment or discretion of the defendant; and (4) that no other adequate remedy exists. [Casco Twp. v. Secretary of State, 472 Mich. 566, 621, 701 N.W.2d 102 (2005) (Young, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).]
A clear legal right has been defined as a right “ ‘clearly founded in, or granted by, law; a right which is inferable as a matter of law from uncontroverted facts regardless of the difficulty of the legal question to be decided.’ ” Univ. Med. Affiliates, P.C. v. Wayne Co. Executive, 142 Mich. App. 135, 143, 369 N.W.2d 277 (1985) (citation omitted). The plaintiff has the burden to demonstrate an entitlement to the extraordinary remedy of a writ of mandamus. Herp v. Lansing City Clerk, 164 Mich. App. 150, 161, 416 N.W.2d 367 (1987).
Plaintiffs here include a duly registered ballot-question committee (CPMC), a former paid employee of a political candidate (Spyke), and the parent of a person otherwise disqualified from serving on the proposed commission (Daunt). Spyke and Daunt contend that they will be aggrieved by the VNP Proposal because they would be precluded from serving on the redistricting commission pursuant to the revised criteria. They assert a clear legal right to have the Secretary and the Board reject the petition and not place it on the ballot.
The Secretary has a clear legal duty to “[p]repare the form of ballot for any proposed amendment to the constitution or proposal under the initiative or referendum provision of the constitution to be submitted to the voters of this state.” MCL 168.31(1)(f). The Secretary argues, however, that her only remaining duty is to certify the ballot to the counties after Board certification.
The Board has a clear legal duty regarding ballot questions because it examines petitions to ascertain that they have sufficient signatures. MCL 168.476. The Board also makes an official declaration regarding the sufficiency of the petition. MCL 168.477(1). The Board’s duty is to certify the proposal after determining whether the form of the petition substantially complies with statutory requirements and whether the proposal has sufficient signatures in support. See Protecting Mich. Taxpayers v. Bd. of State Canvassers, 324 Mich. App. 240, 248 n. 3, 919 N.W.2d 677 (2018). In essence, the Board ascertains whether sufficient valid signatures support the petition and whether the petition is in proper form.
“A ministerial act is one in which the law prescribes and defines the duty to be performed with such precision and certainty as to leave nothing to the exercise of discretion or judgment.” Hillsdale County Senior Servs., Inc. v. Hillsdale County, 494 Mich. 46, 58 n. 11, 832 N.W.2d 728 (2013) (quotation marks and citation omitted).
This Court has settled the question of whether the Board’s and the Secretary’s clear legal duties are ministerial where, as here, the parties dispute whether an initiative petition proposal is an “amendment” to, or a “general revision” of, the Constitution. In Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution v. Secretary of State, 280 Mich. App. 273, 286-287, 761 N.W.2d 210 (2008), aff’d in result only 482 Mich. 960, 755 N.W.2d 157 (2008), the panel explained that, because the determinations of whether a proposal is a general revision or an amendment to the Constitution and whether a proposal serves more than a single purpose require judgment, they are not ministerial tasks to be performed by the Secretary or the Board. However, this Court is obliged to make the threshold determination of whether an initiative petition meets the constitutional prerequisites for acceptance on the ballot. Id. at 283, 291, 761 N.W.2d 210. As a result of this Court’s decision, the Board and the Secretary would have a clear legal duty regarding the initiative petition. At that point, the act of the Board and the Secretary regarding the petition would be ministerial in nature, not requiring the exercise of judgment or discretion. Id. at 291–292, 761 N.W.2d 210. Consequently, as we have determined that the VNP Proposal meets the constitutional prerequisites, the Secretary’s and the Board’s actions in placing it on the ballot will be ministerial.
It does not appear to be disputed that the parties have no other adequate remedy available in law or equity.
Historically, challenges regarding a petition’s substance have been viewed as premature if brought before the initiative legislation comes into effect, see Hamilton, 212 Mich. at 34, 179 N.W. 553, but challenges regarding the legality or sufficiency of the form of the petitions themselves may be entertained earlier, Leininger v. Secretary of State, 316 Mich. 644, 26 N.W.2d 348 (1947). Questions about whether a petition meets the constitutional prerequisites for acceptance are ripe for review. Mich. United Conservation Clubs v. Secretary of State, 463 Mich. 1009, 625 N.W.2d 377 (2001). Because the instant challenge involves whether the VNP Proposal is eligible to be on the ballot, the issue is ripe for review. See also Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, 280 Mich. App. at 283, 288, 761 N.W.2d 210.
B. AMENDMENT VERSUS GENERAL REVISION
Article 12, § 2 of Michigan’s 1963 Constitution addresses the amendment of the Constitution via initiative petition. It sets forth the requirements for such a petition to be placed on the ballot and provides:
Amendments may be proposed to this constitution by petition of the registered electors of this state. Every petition shall include the full text of the proposed amendment, and be signed by registered electors of the state equal in number to at least 10 percent of the total vote cast for all candidates for governor at the last preceding general election at which a governor was elected. Such petitions shall be filed with the person authorized by law to receive the same at least 120 days before the election at which the proposed amendment is to be voted upon. Any such petition shall be in the form, and shall be signed and circulated in such manner, as prescribed by law. The person authorized by law to receive such petition shall upon its receipt determine, as provided by law, the validity and sufficiency of the signatures on the petition, and make an official announcement thereof at least 60 days prior to the election at which the proposed amendment is to be voted upon.
Any amendment proposed by such petition shall be submitted, not less than 120 days after it was filed, to the electors at the next general election. Such proposed amendment, existing provisions of the constitution which would be altered or abrogated thereby, and the question as it shall appear on the ballot shall be published in full as provided by law. Copies of such publication shall be posted in each polling place and furnished to news media as provided by law.
The ballot to be used in such election shall contain a statement of the purpose of the proposed amendment, expressed in not more than 100 words, exclusive of caption. Such statement of purpose and caption shall be prepared by the person authorized by law, and shall consist of a true and impartial statement of the purpose of the amendment in such language as shall create no prejudice for or against the proposed amendment.
If the proposed amendment is approved by a majority of the electors voting on the question, it shall become part of the constitution, and shall abrogate or amend existing provisions of the constitution at the end of 45 days after the date of the election at which it was approved. If two or more amendments approved by the electors at the same election conflict, that amendment receiving the highest affirmative vote shall prevail.
The above language does not impose, or even suggest, limitation on the scope of a voter initiative proposing a constitutional amendment.
In contrast, Article 12, § 3 of the 1963 Constitution, involves general revision of the Constitution via a constitutional convention, and it provides:
At the general election to be held in the year 1978, and in each 16th year thereafter and at such times as may be provided by law, the question of a general revision of the constitution shall be submitted to the electors of the state. If a majority of the electors voting on the question decide in favor of a convention for such purpose, at an election to be held not later than six months after the proposal was certified as approved, the electors of each representative district as then organized shall elect one delegate and the electors of each senatorial district as then organized shall elect one delegate at a partisan election. The delegates so elected shall convene at the seat of government on the first Tuesday in October next succeeding such election or at an earlier date if provided by law.
The convention shall choose its own officers, determine the rules of its proceedings and judge the qualifications, elections and returns of its members. To fill a vacancy in the office of any delegate, the governor shall appoint a qualified resident of the same district who shall be a member of the same party as the delegate vacating the office. The convention shall have power to appoint such officers, employees and assistants as it deems necessary and to fix their compensation; to provide for the printing and distribution of its documents, journals and proceedings; to explain and disseminate information about the proposed constitution and to complete the business of the convention in an orderly manner. Each delegate shall receive for his services compensation provided by law.
No proposed constitution or amendment adopted by such convention shall be submitted to the electors for approval as hereinafter provided unless by the assent of a majority of all the delegates elected to and serving in the convention, with the names and vote of those voting entered in the journal. Any proposed constitution or amendments adopted by such convention shall be submitted to the qualified electors in the manner and at the time provided by such convention not less than 90 days after final adjournment of the convention. Upon the approval of such constitution or amendments by a majority of the qualified electors voting thereon the constitution or amendments shall take effect as provided by the convention.
Our courts long have recognized that an amendment is not the same as a general revision and have attempted to define the differences between them where the constitutional provisions themselves do not define the terms. Eight decades ago, in 1932, our Supreme Court discussed the fundamental distinctions between revision and amendment in Kelly v. Laing, 259 Mich. 212, 242 N.W. 891 (1932). The Court held that an initiative petition may encompass only one proposed amendment but may involve more than one section, provided that “all sections are germane to the purpose of the amendment.” Id. at 216, 242 N.W. 891. Another question raised in Laing was whether the changes at issue could be raised by amendment, or whether they constituted a general revision. The Court described the differences between the two concepts:
‘Revision’ and ‘amendment’ have the common characteristics of working changes in the charter and are sometimes used inexactly, but there is an essential difference between them. Revision implies a re-examination of the whole law and a redraft without obligation to maintain the form, scheme, or structure of the old. As applied to fundamental law, such as a constitution or charter, it suggests a convention to examine the whole subject and to prepare and submit a new instrument, whether the desired changes from the old be few or many. Amendment implies continuance of the general plan and purport of the law, with corrections to accomplish its purpose. Basically, revision suggests fundamental change, while amendment is a correction of detail. [Id. at 217, 242 N.W. 891.]
Our Supreme Court added:
An amendment is usually proposed by persons interested in a specific change and little concerned with its effect upon other provisions of the charter. [In contrast, the] machinery of revision is in line with our historical and traditional system of changing fundamental law by convention, which experience has shown best adapted to make necessary readjustments. [Id. at 221–222, 242 N.W. 891.]
One year after Laing, our Supreme Court had occasion to consider whether a proposal was a revision or an amendment in City of Pontiac Sch. Dist. v. City of Pontiac, 262 Mich. 338, 344, 247 N.W. 474 (1933). The plaintiff argued that the proposal to limit property taxes that had been approved in the general election was so far-reaching as to invalidate the Constitution and thus was a general revision. Id. at 345. The Court disagreed, concluding that it was an amendment because the proposal did not “interfere with” or “modify” the operation of governmental agencies in such a way to render it a general revision.48 Id. at 345, 247 N.W. 474.
In 2008, building on the precepts from Laing and Pontiac, this Court discussed the difference between an amendment of the Constitution and a general revision of the Constitution in Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, 280 Mich. App. 273, 761 N.W.2d 210. Regarding a complaint for mandamus filed by the plaintiff CPMC concerning an initiative petition from the intervening defendant Reform Michigan Government Now (RMGN) for the general-election ballot, this Court analyzed the constitutional provisions governing an amendment, as compared to a general revision. The Court held that it was “absolutely clear” that the procedures for constitutional amendment could not achieve a general revision of the constitution. Id. at 277, 761 N.W.2d 210. While the constitution provides for amendment under the initiative petition procedure—that is, through Article 12, § 2—a general revision of the constitution can occur only by the constitutional convention procedure in Article 12, § 3. Id.
This Court decided that the courts also must consider “the degree to which the proposal interferes with, or modifies, the operation of government.” Id. at 298, 761 N.W.2d 210. The more the proposal modifies or interferes with the operation of government, the more likely it is to be a general revision. Id. The Court held:
[T]o determine whether a proposal effects a “general revision” of the constitution, and is therefore not subject to the initiative process established for amending the constitution, the Court must consider both the quantitative nature and the qualitative nature of the proposed changes. More specifically, the determination depends on not only the number of proposed changes or whether a wholly new constitution is being offered, but on the scope of the proposed changes and the degree to which those changes would interfere with, or modify, the operation of government. [Id. at 305, 761 N.W.2d 210 (emphasis added).]
The RMGN proposal in Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution would have made myriad changes to the 1963 Michigan Constitution related to a far-ranging field of topics, from reducing the number of senators, representatives, and appellate justices and judges, to granting any citizen standing for certain environmental lawsuits, to limiting lobbying activities; the opinion listed 29 distinct changes to a multitude of constitutional provisions. Id. at 279–281, 761 N.W.2d 210. The proposal also would have created a new commission with authority over legislative districting, established rules for creating legislative districting plans, and eliminated judicial review over districting plans. Id. at 280, 761 N.W.2d 210. In total, it would have altered over two dozen sections of four articles within the constitution and added four additional sections. Id. at 305, 761 N.W.2d 210.
This Court decided that the RMGN proposal did not “even approach the ‘field of application’ for the amendment procedure.” Id. (citation omitted). The Court observed that the proposal would have modified “the fundamental governmental structure” under the Constitution. Id. at 306, 761 N.W.2d 210. Moreover, it would have done so in an abrupt manner, within less than six months of the November 2008 election. Id. at 306–307, 761 N.W.2d 210. The Court concluded that “[t]he substantial entirety of the petition alters the core, fundamental underpinnings of the constitution, amounting to a wholesale revision, not a mere amendment.” Id. at 307, 761 N.W.2d 210. Our Supreme Court affirmed in result only and did not adopt this Court’s reasoning.49
The RMGN proposal would have reorganized the operation of the whole state government. The same is simply not true in this case. Here, rather than proposing “sprawling compilations of changes” as characterized by plaintiffs, the VNP Proposal has a singular focus: to create an independent citizens redistricting commission with exclusive authority to establish redistricting plans for legislative districts. This case therefore is distinguishable from the much broader RMGN proposal in Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution.
The question then becomes whether under the legal framework of Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, the VNP Proposal falls within the description of an amendment. Intervening defendants argue that this Court should limit Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution to its own “highly unusual” facts, particularly because the Court set forth a qualitative/quantitative standard borrowed primarily from the decisions of other state courts. Nevertheless, we are bound by Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution as a published decision issued after 1990. MCR 7.215(J)(1). But even in following Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, we keep in mind the Court’s clarification at the outset that its decision was not “to prevent the citizens from voting on a proposal simply because that proposal is allegedly too complex or confusing.” Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, 280 Mich. App. at 276.
Four years after Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution was decided, our Court considered in Protect Our Jobs v. Bd. of State Canvassers, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued August 27, 2012 (Docket No. 311828), 2012 WL 3660260, aff’d on other grounds 492 Mich. 763, 822 N.W.2d 534 (2012), whether a ballot initiative was an amendment or a general revision.50 The proposal would have added a new Article 1, § 28 to provide the right to bargain collectively, and a new paragraph to Article 11, § 5 to protect the collective bargaining right for classified civil service employees. The plaintiff, CPMC challenged the proposal as, among other things, being a general revision rather than an amendment. Id. at 1–2. This Court relied on the qualitative and quantitative test in Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution to analyze the issue. The Court acknowledged that the proposal might have an effect on provisions and statutes, but it also observed that the proposal was confined to a single subject matter and that it directly added only one section to the Constitution and changed one other. This Court resolved that the initiative proposal was “far more akin to a correction of detail than a fundamental change, when viewed in the proper context of the constitution as a whole.” Id. at 2–3.
This case falls somewhere between Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution and Protect Our Jobs. The VNP Proposal is nowhere near as diverse and titanic as the RMGN proposal, but nor is it as concise as the proposal in Protect Our Jobs.
The VNP Proposal maintains the structure of a commission for legislative districting. It continues the general plans for a commission, but it changes the details of how the commission members are chosen and the specifics regarding the commission’s operation. It does not seek to change fundamental law—senate and house members still will represent, and be chosen by, voters in legislative districts, and the number of senators and representatives will not change, unlike the RMGN proposal. The VNP proposal was put forward by a ballot-question committee intent on a specific change: to modify the commission membership to provide for an independent commission to draw legislative lines and to restrict membership on the commission to those who essentially are not partisan elected officials or lobbyists. In short, the VNP Proposal is intended to remedy perceived abuses from partisan gerrymandering of districts. This proposal does not interfere with or modify the operation of the government in such a way as to render it a general revision. The proposal seeks only to modify the sections of the Constitution that involve a single, narrow focus—the independent citizens redistricting commission.
We acknowledge that the Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution Court commented on a portion of the RMGN proposal dealing with the proposed changes to the districting commission:
As just one example, the proposal strips the Legislature of any authority to propose and enact a legislative redistricting plan. It abrogates a portion of the judicial power by giving a new executive branch redistricting commission authority to conduct legislative redistricting. It then removes from the judicial branch the power of judicial review over the new commission’s actions. We agree with the Attorney General that the proposal affects the “foundation power” of government by “wresting from” the legislative branch and the judicial branch any authority over redistricting and consolidating that power in the executive branch, albeit in a new independent agency with plenary authority over redistricting. [Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, 280 Mich. App. at 306, 761 N.W.2d 210.]
The instant proposal does not wrest complete power from the legislative branch and the judicial branch, given that the Legislature retains the power to veto potential commission members and the judiciary retains control over challenges related to the commission. The proposal does shift the duty of redistricting from the Legislature to the independent commission, a commission that is similar in structure to the one described in our existing Constitution. The proposal does not otherwise reduce general legislative power.
With regard to our Supreme Court, the proposal provides for Supreme Court oversight in a manner similar to the existing constitutional provisions, but it does preclude the Supreme Court from ordering the adoption of a plan other than that arrived at by the independent commission. The power of the executive branch would not be materially changed, although the commission’s functions would not be subject to control by the governor. Plaintiffs seek to parse out these changes into 14 enumerated points, but those points merely seek to shift the Court’s focus from the forest to the trees. This issue should not be made more complicated than necessary.
Further, the Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution Court did not consider the proposed change in isolation but as one of the 29 items in the vast proposal. Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution did not hold that an initiative could not succeed on any one of those 29 subjects; rather, it held that because the petition encompassed all 29 changes, it could not be considered a mere amendment. We do not construe the proposed amendment here as so far-reaching in the framework of the Constitution so as to be a reexamination of the whole section. Because our existing Constitution has provided for a commission to draw the districting lines, it follows that an independent commission to do the same would not be so violative of the Constitution so as to preclude this proposal from placement on the ballot.
Moreover, the VNP Proposal is not wholly new. It does not create an entirely new commission regarding redistricting; the commission already exists in our Constitution, although admittedly it has not been active for decades given Reynolds. The VNP Proposal merely changes the method by which the commissioners will be chosen going forward and adds additional members who are avowed independent voters. It does not wholly impede legislative power because legislative leaders retain the power to veto proposed commission members. Undeniably, it introduces new concepts,51 but it does so in a finite manner. The body of Michigan caselaw does not hold that the addition of new concepts within the framework of our existing Constitution precludes an initiative petition.
Plaintiffs maintain that the VNP Proposal abandons core redistricting criteria that have existed since the state’s founding. Our Supreme Court has ruled that “[t]he basic building blocks of the apportionment rules are the counties.” In re Apportionment of State Legislature—1982, 413 Mich. at 125, 321 N.W.2d 565. The public-policy issues raised by the proposal’s nonadherence to the county framework are not the province of this branch of government at this stage of the initiative petition process. We do not believe that the choosing of geographical legislative districts for representation is truly a “fundamental function” or an “operation of government.”
With regard to the quantitative portion of the Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution holding, the VNP Proposal changes 11 sections within three articles of the Constitution. The essential changes can be quickly enumerated, yet plaintiffs repeatedly point out that the proposal would add 4,834 words to the Constitution and even included a bar graph in their reply brief. VNP should not be penalized for including specific details within its proposal, particularly when many of the proposed additions are merely operational details.
Plaintiffs also argue that the proposal is multifarious and goes beyond the scope of a single amendment. The VNP Proposal is undeniably detailed, but it is targeted to achieve a single, specific purpose. To the extent that plaintiffs urge this Court to accept that the meaning of an amendment includes a “short” correction to the existing constitution, we have found no such limitation in legal authority.
Further, plaintiffs maintain that the VNP Proposal should have a lengthy explanation of its changes, pointing out that the information disseminated after the 1961–1962 constitutional convention included a 109–page pamphlet. Here, such a lengthy pamphlet would not be necessary to describe the changes proposed by the VNP Proposal, particularly when the most recent constitutional convention resulted in myriad innovative changes to the existing Constitution, including the mandate of equal-rights protections and the establishment of the Civil Rights Commission.
Plaintiffs also argue that the multifarious nature of the VNP Proposal is illustrated by the fact that it cannot be easily summarized in 100 words. This argument is premature because the Director of Elections has not yet fulfilled her duty under MCL 168.32(2) to draft the 100–word summary.
Plaintiffs add that some of the VNP Proposal requirements would be impossible to comply with, focusing on the requirement that the Secretary select commissioners in a manner that mirrors the demographic makeup of the state. That argument is irrelevant to the threshold question before this Court regarding whether the proposal is eligible to be placed on the ballot, but instead pertains to the merits of the proposal, an issue that is not before this Court.
In sum, we opine that the VNP Proposal is closer to the proposal in Protect Our Jobs than to the proposal in Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution. We hold that the VNP Proposal, although undeniably introducing new concepts, does not modify or interfere with the fundamental operation of government or create a wholly new constitutional provision so as to make it a general revision to the Constitution rather than an amendment.
Proposals to amend the Constitution must publish those sections that the proposal will alter or abrogate. Article 12, § 2 of the 1963 Constitution governs amendment of the Constitution by petition and vote, and it provides, in pertinent part: “Such proposed amendment, existing provisions of the constitution which would be altered or abrogated thereby, and the question as it shall appear on the ballot shall be published in full as provided by law.” The provision’s aim is to advise the voter of the amendment’s purpose and to identify which provision(s) of the constitutional law it changes or replaces. Massey v. Secretary of State, 457 Mich. 410, 417, 579 N.W.2d 862 (1998). Care must be taken, however, not to confuse the voter by publishing myriad constitutional provisions “which were or might be directly or only remotely, and possibly only contingently, affected by the proposed amendment.” City of Pontiac Sch. Dist., 262 Mich. at 344, 247 N.W. 474.
The Legislature has enacted the publishing requirements for petitions. MCL 168.482(3) provides, in relevant part: “If the proposal would alter or abrogate an existing provision of the constitution, the petition shall so state and the provisions to be altered or abrogated shall be inserted, preceded by the words: ‘Provisions of existing constitution altered or abrogated by the proposal if adopted.’ ” 52 (Formatting altered.)
Our Supreme Court has held that an initiative petition must comply with the mandatory statutory provisions that set forth requirements regarding a petition’s form. Stand Up for Democracy v. Secretary of State, 492 Mich. 588, 594, 601-602, 822 N.W.2d 159 (2012) (opinion by Mary Beth Kelly, J.); id. at 620, 822 N.W.2d 159 (opinion by Young, C.J.); id. at 637, 640-641, 822 N.W.2d 159 (opinion by Markman, J.).53 Given that MCL 168.482(3) contains the mandatory term “shall,” petitions must comply with the republication requirement. Protect Our Jobs, 492 Mich. at 778, 822 N.W.2d 534. Provisions of the Constitution must be republished on petitions when “a proposed constitutional provision amends or replaces (‘alters or abrogates’) a specific provision of the Constitution, that such provision should be published along with the proposed amendment ․” City of Pontiac Sch. Dist., 262 Mich. at 344, 247 N.W. 474. Our Supreme Court has explained that an alteration or abrogation ensues “if the proposed amendment would add to, delete from, or change the existing wording of the provision, or would render it wholly inoperative.” Ferency v. Secretary of State, 409 Mich. 569, 597, 297 N.W.2d 544 (1980). The fact that a proposed amendment will affect a provision does not inevitably mean the provision is “altered or abrogated.” Id. at 596-597, 297 N.W.2d 544.
In 2012, our Supreme Court observed that the republication requirement continued to be subject to debate, which inspired the Court to provide additional clarity. It reasoned that to establish that a proposed amendment “alters” an existing provision such that republication is required, an amendment must: (1) add words to an existing provision, (2) delete words from an existing provision, or (3) change the wording in an existing provision. Protect Our Jobs, 492 Mich. at 782, 822 N.W.2d 534. Consequently, the Court concluded that a new constitutional provision does not “alter” an existing provision when the new provision leaves completely intact the text of all existing provisions.54 Id.
With regard to whether an amendment “abrogates” an existing provision, the Protect Our Jobs Court stated that “the ‘abrogation’ standard makes clear that republication is only triggered by a change that would essentially eviscerate an existing provision.” Id. The Court went on to state:
Our caselaw establishes that an existing provision of the Constitution is abrogated and, thus, must be republished if it is rendered ‘wholly inoperative.’ An existing constitutional provision is rendered wholly inoperative if the proposed amendment would make the existing provision a nullity or if it would be impossible for the amendment to be harmonized with the existing provision when the two provisions are considered together. That is, if two provisions are incompatible with each other, the new provision would abrogate the existing provision and, thus, the existing provision would have to be republished. An existing provision is not rendered wholly inoperative if it can be reasonably construed in a manner consistent with the new provision, i.e., the two provisions are not incompatible.
Determining whether the existing and new provisions can be harmonized requires careful consideration of the actual language used in both the existing provision and the proposed amendment. An existing provision that uses nonexclusive or nonabsolute language is less likely to be rendered inoperative simply because a proposed new provision introduces in some manner a change to the existing provision. Rather, when the existing provision would likely continue to exist as it did preamendment, although it might be affected or supplemented in some fashion by the proposed amendment, no abrogation occurs. On the other hand, a proposed amendment more likely renders an existing provision inoperative if the existing provision creates a mandatory requirement or uses language providing an exclusive power or authority because any change to such a provision would tend to negate the specifically conferred constitutional requirement. [Id. at 782–783, 822 N.W.2d 534 (citations omitted).]
The abrogation inquiry requires examination of the entire existing constitutional provision, as well as the provision’s “discrete subparts, sentences, clauses, or even, potentially, single words.” Id. at 784, 822 N.W.2d 534. The petition must republish the entire provision if the proposed amendment “renders wholly inoperative” any of the existing provision’s components. Id.
The Court summarized its holding regarding republication as follows:
1. When the existing language of a constitutional provision would be altered or abrogated by the proposed amendment, republication of the existing provision is required.
2. The language of the amendment itself, rather than how proponents or opponents of the amendment characterize its meaning, controls whether an existing provision would be altered or abrogated by the proposed amendment.
3. When the existing language of a constitutional provision would not be altered, but the proposed amendment would render the entire provision or some discrete component of the provision wholly inoperative, abrogation would occur and republication of the existing language is required.
4. When the existing language would not be altered or abrogated, but the proposed amendment would only have an effect on the existing language, and the new and existing provisions can be harmoniously construed, republication of the existing provision is not required.
5. When the existing language would not be altered or abrogated, but the proposed amendment would only have an effect on the existing language, thereby requiring that the new and existing provisions be interpreted together, republication of the existing provision is not required. [Id. at 791–792, 822 N.W.2d 534.]
Additionally, the Protect Our Jobs Court cited Ferency’s caution against adopting an overly expansive definition of the terms “alter or abrogate” so as not to “chill” the people’s ability to amend the Constitution. It added that petition circulators should not be required to append the entire Constitution to their petition. Id. at 780, 822 N.W.2d 534, citing Ferency, 409 Mich. at 597-598, 297 N.W.2d 544. The courts and the Legislature may not impose “undue burdens” on the people’s right to amend. Wolverine Golf Club v. Secretary of State, 384 Mich. 461, 466, 185 N.W.2d 392 (1971) (citation omitted).
The VNP Proposal does not alter the challenged sections at issue because it does not add words, delete words, or change words in the existing sections. Consequently, the analysis that follows examines only whether the VNP Proposal abrogates existing constitutional provisions.
1. CIRCUIT COURT JURISDICTION
Const. 1963, art. 6, § 13 provides:
The circuit court shall have original jurisdiction in all matters not prohibited by law; appellate jurisdiction from all inferior courts and tribunals except as otherwise provided by law; power to issue, hear and determine prerogative and remedial writs; supervisory and general control over inferior courts and tribunals within their respective jurisdictions in accordance with rules of the supreme court; and jurisdiction of other cases and matters as provided by rules of the supreme court.
In the VNP Proposal, Article 4, § 6(19) provides, in relevant part:
The Supreme Court, in the exercise of original jurisdiction, shall direct the Secretary of State or the Commission to perform their respective duties, may review a challenge to any plan adopted by the commission, and shall remand a plan to the commission for further action if the plan fails to comply with the requirements of this Constitution, the Constitution of the United States or superseding federal law.
Plaintiffs contend that the proposal creates original jurisdiction over redistricting matters in the Supreme Court instead of in the circuit court and that Article 4, § 6(19) abrogates Const. 1963, art. 6, § 13 because it would divest the circuit court of its exclusive original jurisdiction. Notably, our current Constitution already gives the Supreme Court authority over redistricting commission matters. Const. 1963, art. 4, § 6, ¶¶ 7–8.
Also, the substance of Const. 1963, art. 6, § 13 would not be changed by the VNP Proposal. Article 6, § 13 does not have exclusive language. Rather, it provides the circuit court with jurisdiction in all matters not prohibited by law, which illustrates that the framers intended that the circuit courts’ jurisdiction would have exceptions. Article 6, § 13 therefore does not suggest that such jurisdiction cannot be limited or affected by other constitutional provisions.
Indeed, our Courts recognize that exceptions to circuit court jurisdiction exist. Plaintiffs cite Bowie v. Arder, 441 Mich. 23, 490 N.W.2d 568 (1992), to support their argument that the VNP Proposal abrogates Const. 1963, art. 6, § 13 because the change would be not “by law,” but by constitutional decree. The Bowie Court recognized however that circuit court jurisdiction may be subject to an exception when jurisdiction is “given exclusively to another court by constitution or statute ․” Id. at 38, 490 N.W.2d 568. See MCL 600.605.55 See also Prime Time Int’l Distrib., Inc. v. Dep’t of Treasury, 322 Mich. App. 46, 52, 910 N.W.2d 683 (2017) (observing that the circuit courts are presumed to have jurisdiction unless expressly prohibited or unless jurisdiction is given to another court by Constitution or statute).
Further, the VNP Proposal can be harmonized with Const. 1963, art. 6, § 13 because the only effect is that the circuit court will not have jurisdiction over the commission. In all other respects, Const. 1963, art. 6, § 13 remains unaffected. The existing constitutional provision has not been eviscerated. No abrogation therefore would occur because the existing provision would be neither negated nor rendered wholly inoperative.
2. FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Const. 1963, art. 1, § 5 provides as follows:
Every person may freely speak, write, express and publish his views on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of such right; and no law shall be enacted to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.
The VNP Proposal provides in Article 4, § 6(11), in relevant part:
The Commission, its members, staff, attorneys, and consultants shall not discuss redistricting matters with members of the public outside of an open meeting of the Commission, except that a commissioner may communicate about redistricting matters with members of the public to gain information relevant to the performance of his or her duties if such communication occurs (a) in writing or (b) at a previously publicly noticed forum or town hall open to the general public.
Plaintiffs suggest that the VNP Proposal would restrict the free speech of commissioners. They argue that the restrictions on the commissioners’ liberty of speech would extend to matters beyond the commission, and they suggest that the restrictions are neither in the public interest nor in keeping with the rights of the public officials. We reject these policy arguments because the issue before this Court is the alleged abrogation of existing constitutional provisions, not whether the VNP Proposal promotes sound social policy. We also point out that the speech of government employees may be subject to certain restrictions given the public employees’ potential to express views that are contrary to governmental policies; a citizen entering government service “must accept certain limitations on his or her freedom [of speech].” Shirvell v. Dep’t of Attorney General, 308 Mich. App. 702, 733, 866 N.W.2d 478 (2015) (quotation marks and citation omitted).
Abrogation would not occur because Const. 1963, art. 1, § 5 would remain fully operative. Article 4, § 6(11) of the VNP Proposal does not restrict all speech but does place limits on matters related to official commission work. Commissioners would retain their right to speak freely, but when speaking on official business, they would be restricted to doing so in an open meeting, in writing, or at a publicly noticed public forum. That constraint is accounted for by the condition in Const. 1963, art. 1, § 5 that every person “is responsible for the abuse of such right [to free speech.]” Accordingly, the right to free speech is not wholly unrestricted.
Additionally, Const. 1963, art. 1, § 5 is not rendered a nullity because it has relevancy well beyond the scope of matters related to the commission. The VNP Proposal does not replace Const. 1963, art. 1, § 5, nor does it render that section wholly inoperative. Plaintiffs have taken a very broad view of the Protect Our Jobs standard, arguing that “any abrogation,” even a slight one, requires republication. A restriction, however, is not an abrogation—and Protect Our Jobs holds that the provisions must be impossible to harmonize. Protect Our Jobs, 492 Mich. at 784, 822 N.W.2d 534. Republication is not required when the new proposed amendment would have only an effect on existing language. Id. at 792, 822 N.W.2d 534.
3. APPROPRIATIONS CLAUSE
The Appropriations Clause, Const. 1963, art. 9, § 17, provides:
No money shall be paid out of the state treasury except in pursuance of appropriations made by law.
The VNP Proposal sets forth Article 4, § 6(5), which provides, in relevant part:
Each commissioner shall receive compensation at least equal to 25 percent of the governor’s salary. The State of Michigan shall indemnify commissioners for costs incurred if the Legislature does not appropriate sufficient funds to cover such costs.
Plaintiffs contend that the existing provision is incompatible with the proposed requirement that the state compensate and indemnify commissioners for costs incurred even absent an appropriation. They note that the proposal mandates indemnification of commissioners even if the Legislature does not approve sufficient funding.
In examining the Appropriations Clause from the 1908 Constitution,56 our Supreme Court recognized that “the weight of authority” held that the clause did not restrict appropriations to enactments from the Legislature but also allows for “a constitutional appropriation apart from any action by the legislature.” Civil Serv. Comm. v. Auditor General, 302 Mich. 673, 679, 5 N.W.2d 536 (1942). But even so, the VNP Proposal accounts for the legislative appropriation because it provides for a cause of action if the Legislature does not appropriate the funds—thereby indicating that the money is to come from the Legislature via an appropriation.
Plaintiffs’ claims that the commission will have an unlimited budget and that the state’s assets will be subject to the “unrestricted whims” of the commissioners are irrelevant because they do not pertain to the question of whether the VNP Proposal abrogates the existing Appropriations Clause by setting forth a particular minimum budget for the commission and providing for a cause of action if the Legislature fails to appropriate the funds. The proposed Article 4, § 6(5) does not require a payment from the state treasury absent an appropriation, but merely provides for a constitutional cause of action should the Legislature fail to fulfill its obligation to fund the commission. To the extent that plaintiffs argue that the courts cannot order the Legislature to make an appropriation, that question need not be settled at this time. The only question in this case is whether the VNP Proposal replaces, renders wholly inoperative, or eviscerates the Appropriations Clause. It does not.
4. OATH OF OFFICE
Const. 1963, art. 11, § 1 concerns the oath taken by public officers and provides as follows:
All officers, legislative, executive and judicial, before entering upon the duties of their respective offices, shall take and subscribe the following oath or affirmation: I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of this state, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of ․ according to the best of my ability. No other oath, affirmation, or any religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust.
The VNP Proposal sets forth Article 4, § 6(2), which provides, in relevant part:
Commissioners shall be selected through the following process:
(A) The Secretary of State shall do all of the following:
* * *
(III) Require applicants to attest under oath that they meet the qualifications set forth in this section; and either that they affiliate with one of the two political parties with the largest representation in the Legislature (hereinafter, “major parties”), and if so, identify the party with which they affiliate, or that they do not affiliate with either of the major parties.
Plaintiffs maintain that the existing provision requires only one oath, and the new provision would render the existing provision a nullity. The affirmation in proposed Article 4, § 6(2)(A)(III) is not an oath of office, but is merely an affirmation that the applicant satisfies the commissioner qualifications, which are enumerated in a separate section, § 6(1). This position finds support in Advisory Opinion on Constitutionality of 1975 PA 227, 396 Mich. 465, 510, 242 N.W.2d 3 (1976), wherein our Supreme Court ruled that an oath regarding financial disclosure was akin to the affidavits required to file a nominating petition under MCL 168.558.
In contrast, the oath in Harrington v. Secretary of State, 211 Mich. 395, 395-396, 179 N.W. 283 (1920), cited by plaintiffs, required the candidate to swear in part that he would “support the principles of [the] political party of which he is a member if nominated and elected[.]” That loyalty oath was to cover the entire term of office, even after election, and for so long as he or she remained in office. In ruling that the oath was unconstitutional, the Court cited with approval the Attorney General’s reasoning that the candidate would be bound by an oath other than the constitutional oath of office. Id. at 397, 179 N.W. 283. The same is not true here because the oath required by the VNP Proposal relates only to the information on the application and does not bind a candidate once he or she becomes a commissioner.
Thus, the existing oath-of-office provision is unaffected by the affirmation. The proposal does not make the existing constitutional provision a nullity.
5. CIVIL SERVICE EMPLOYEES
In a footnote, plaintiffs add a final example, stating that VNP Proposal should have republished Const. 1963, art. 11, § 5, regarding civil service employees, given that the Civil Service Commission has the authority to regulate “all conditions of employment in the classified service.” The VNP Proposal in art. 4, § 6(21) provides:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no employer shall discharge, threaten to discharge, intimidate, coerce, or retaliate against any employee because of the employee’s membership on the commission or attendance or scheduled attendance at any meeting of the commission.
Plaintiffs argue that if a civil-service employee becomes a member of the commission, the Civil Service Commission’s authority over “all conditions of employment” will no longer be exclusive. This argument has been abandoned because plaintiffs opted to give it cursory treatment. Huntington Nat’l Bank v. Daniel J. Aronoff Living Trust, 305 Mich. App. 496, 517, 853 N.W.2d 481 (2014). Even so, the two provisions can be harmonized. Therefore, we cannot conclude that the proposal abrogates the existing provision.
Intervening defendants seek a writ of mandamus directing defendants to comply with their duties concerning certification, approval, and placement of the VNP Proposal on the 2018 general-election ballot. We have concluded that plaintiffs’ complaint for mandamus should be denied. Consequently, intervening defendants’ cross-claim should be granted with respect to the Board, because the Board has the duty to make the final decision regarding the sufficiency of the petition. Intervening defendants also ask that this Court designate that its order have immediate effect pursuant to MCR 7.215(F)(2).
Plaintiffs’ complaint is without merit. The VNP Proposal is not a general revision of the constitution because it is narrowly tailored to address a single subject: the replacement of the current constitutional provision providing for an eight-member redistricting commission with a thirteen-member commission comprised of eight partisan members and five members who are self-declared independent voters not affiliated with either major political party. The VNP Proposal is confined to a single purpose, that of correcting the partisan aspects of the constitutional provisions regarding the redistricting commission, and it does so without interfering with the operation of government. Hence, we conclude that the proposal is an amendment, albeit an amendment set forth in considerable detail, permitted by voter initiative. Also, the petition complies with the republication requirement. The petition neither abrogates nor alters the existing sections of the Constitution as asserted by plaintiffs.
The complaint for mandamus is denied and the cross-complaint is granted. Defendant Board is directed to take the necessary steps to place the proposal on the ballot for the general election. No costs, a public question being involved. This opinion is given immediate effect pursuant to MCR 7.215(F)(2).
The Court orders that the complaint for a writ of mandamus is DENIED. The Voters Not Politicians proposal offered by intervening defendants does not set forth a general revision of the constitution, but is confined to the single purpose of modifying current constitutional provisions regarding the redistricting commission. Therefore, the proposed constitutional amendment in this case is permitted by way of a ballot initiative. See Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution v. Secretary of State, 280 Mich. App. 273, 761 N.W.2d 210 (2008), aff’d in result only 482 Mich. 960, 755 N.W.2d 157 (2008). Further, the petition complies with the republication requirement of MCL 168.482(3), where the petition neither abrogates nor alters the existing sections of the constitution as asserted by plaintiffs. Protect Our Jobs v. Bd. of State Canvassers (On Remand), 492 Mich. 763, 822 N.W.2d 534 (2012).
The cross-complaint is GRANTED. Defendants are directed to take all necessary measures to place the proposal on the November 2018 general election ballot. This order is given immediate effect pursuant to MCR 7.215(F)(2).
1. That statute provides, in pertinent part, “Petitions under section 2 of article XII of the state constitution of 1963 proposing an amendment to the constitution shall be filed with the secretary of state at least 120 days before the election at which the proposed amendment is to be voted upon.”
2. According to the Secretary and the Board, only 315,654 signatures were needed.
3. On the initiative petition, the proposal is summarized as follows, in pertinent part:A proposal to amend the Michigan Constitution to create an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. If adopted, this amendment would transfer the authority to draw Congressional and State Legislative district lines from the Legislature and the Governor to the Independent Commission. The selection process will be administered by the Secretary of State. Thirteen commissioners will be randomly selected from a pool of registered voters, and consist of four members who self-identity with each of the two major political parties, and five non-affiliated, independent members. Current and former partisan elected officials, lobbyists, party officers and their employees are not eligible to serve.
4. The term “gerrymander” is a portmanteau of the name of Elbridge Gerry—a signer of the Declaration of Independence, fifth Vice President of the United States, and the eighth Governor of Massachusetts—who was known for designing legislative districts in strange shapes, one of which resembled a salamander. See Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Comm., 576 U.S. ––––, –––– n. 1, 135 S.Ct. 2652, 2658 n. 1, 192 L.Ed.2d 704 (2015).
5. Justice McGrath concurred with his brethren justices and added with regard to gerrymandering that “[t]he greatest danger to the Republic is not from ignorance, but from machinations to defeat the expression of the popular will.” Id. at 13–14, 52 N.W. 944 (McGrath, J., concurring).
6. Aarab & Regnier, Mapping the Treasure State: What States Can Learn from Redistricting in Montana, 76 Mont. L. Rev. 257 (2015) (citation omitted), available at <> (accessed May 25, 2018) [https://perma.cc/2QBE-4DUW].
7. Gill v. Whitford, United States Supreme Court Docket No. 16–1161 (Wisconsin); Benisek v. Lamone, United States Supreme Court Docket No. 17–333 (Maryland).
8. League of Women Voters of Mich. v. Secretary of State, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Case No. 17–14148, 2017 WL 6610622 (E.D. Mich. Dec. 27, 2017).
9. See Levitt, All About Redistricting, Who Draws the Lines <> (accessed May 24, 2018) <> (accessed May 25, 2018) [https://perma.cc/QR8V-WJZW].
10. See All About Redistricting, Who Draws the Lines.
11. Const. 1835, art. 4, § 3 provided, in pertinent part, that the Legislature “shall apportion anew the representatives and senators among the several counties and districts, according to the number of white inhabitants.”
12. Const. 1835, art. 4, § 4 provided, in part, that representatives were to be chosen “by the electors of the several counties or districts into which the State shall be divided for that purpose.” That section added that there would be one representative for each organized county “but no county hereafter organized shall be entitled to a separate representative until it shall have attained a population equal to the ratio of representation hereafter established.” Id.
13. Const. 1835, art. 4, § 6 provided: “The State shall be divided, at each new apportionment, into a number of not less than four nor more than eight senatorial districts, to be always composed on contiguous territory; so that each district shall elect an equal number of senators annually, as nearly as may be: and no county shall be divided in the formation of such districts.”
14. Const. 1850, art. 4, § 3 provided that representative districts should have “as nearly as may be, an equal number of white inhabitants,” and it further provided, in pertinent part, that “[i]n every county entitled to more than one representative, the board of supervisors shall assemble at such time and place as the legislature shall prescribe, and divide the same into representative districts, equal to the number of representatives to which such county is entitled by law ․”
15. Const. 1908, art. 5, § 3 provided, in pertinent part, that “[i]n every county entitled to more than one representative, the board of supervisors shall assemble at such time and place as shall be prescribed by law, divide the same into representative districts equal to the number of representatives to which such county is entitled by law ․”
16. In 1960, an elector brought a mandamus action to prevent the Secretary of State from performing acts related to the senate districting, alleging that the 1952 amendments were violative of equal protection. Our Supreme Court dismissed the action, and the United States Supreme Court remanded. See Scholle v. Secretary of State, 360 Mich. 1, 104 N.W.2d 63 (1960), vacated and remanded sub nom Scholle v. Hare, 369 U.S. 429, 82 S.Ct. 910, 8 L.Ed.2d 1 (1962). On remand, our Supreme Court decided that the amendments concerning senate districts were invalid. Scholle v. Secretary of State (On Remand), 367 Mich. 176, 116 N.W.2d 350 (1962).
17. The Constitution also provides for procedures for territory that is annexed or merged with a city between apportionments. Const. 1963, art. 4, § 4. Islands also are taken into account. Const. 1963, art. 4, § 5.
18. If a third political party offered a candidate for governor who received over 25% of the gubernatorial vote, the commission would increase to 12 members, with four chosen from the third political party’s state organization. Const. 1963, art. 4, § 6, ¶ 1.
19. The Supreme Court also had original jurisdiction over an elector’s application filed within 60 days of the final publication of the plan. The Court could direct the Secretary of State or the commission to perform their duties, review any final plan adopted by the commissioners, and “remand such plan to the commission for further action if it fail[ed] to comply with the requirements of this constitution.” Const. 1963, art. 4, § 6, ¶ 8.
20. Perhaps that suggested procedure could be considered somewhat of a precursor to the VNP Proposal of randomly drawing the names of candidates for the commission.
21. Notably, the commission still met, notwithstanding that the United States Supreme Court and the Michigan Supreme Court had ruled that much of the language regarding apportionment was not to be enforced. It was to be the final time that the commission was used.
22. The Apol standards require contiguous single-member districts drawn by as equal population as possible.
23. Specifically, the VNP Proposal modifies Article 4, §§ 1 through 6; Article 5, §§ 1, 2, and 4; and Article 6, §§ 1 and 4 of Michigan’s 1963 Constitution.
24. VNP Proposal, art. 5, § 2.
25. VNP Proposal, art. 4, § 2.
26. VNP Proposal, art. 4, § 3.
27. VNP Proposal, art. 4, §§ 2 through 5.
28. VNP Proposal, art. 4, § 6(1); VNP Proposal, art. 4, § 6(2)(F).
29. VNP Proposal, art. 4, § 6(1)(A).
30. VNP Proposal, art. 4, § 6(1)(B) through (E).
31. VNP Proposal, art. 4, § 6(2)(A)(i).
32. VNP Proposal, art. 4, § 6(2)(A).
33. VNP Proposal, art. 4, § 6(2)(E).
34. VNP Proposal, art. 4, § 6(5) through (6).
35. VNP Proposal, art. 4, § 6(8) through (12).
36. VNP Proposal, art. 4, § 6(13)(A through G).
37. VNP Proposal, art. 4, § 6(14) through (15).
38. VNP Proposal, art. 4, § 6(19).
40. VNP Proposal, art. 5, §§ 1 through 2.
41. The proposed language appears on the petition in all capital letters, but for ease of readability, we have not used all capital letters when quoting the proposal’s language in this opinion.
42. VNP Proposal, art. 5, § 4.
43. VNP Proposal, art. 6, §§ 1 and 4.
44. Under that rule, this Court has jurisdiction over an action for “mandamus against a state officer.”
45. MCL 168.479 provides, “Any person or persons, feeling themselves aggrieved by any determination made by said board, may have such determination reviewed by mandamus, certiorari, or other appropriate remedy in the supreme court.”
46. The 1835 Michigan Constitution included a passage regarding constitutional amendments, Const. 1835, art. 13, § 1, but limited those amendments to the Legislature. The 1908 Constitution permitted amendments by petition. Const. 1908, art. 17, § 2.
47. Michigan’s 1835 Constitution contained a section regarding a constitutional convention. See Const. 1835, art. 13, § 2.
48. In light of the Supreme Court’s holdings in Laing and Pontiac, it is puzzling why intervening defendants chose to discuss alternate definitions of “amendment” and “revision.” We rely on the terms as defined in Laing, rather than the dictionary definitions proffered by intervening defendants.
49. In Justice Corrigan’s concurrence, she noted that this Court did not clearly err in its articulation of the difference between an amendment and a general revision or in its ultimate conclusion. Two justices agreed with her. Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, 482 Mich. at 964, 755 N.W.2d 157 (Corrigan, J., concurring). However, as noted, a majority of our Supreme Court did not adopt this Court’s reasoning.
50. On appeal in Protect Our Jobs, our Supreme Court did not address the general revision/amendment argument raised in this Court, limiting its analysis to the republication requirement of Const. 1963, art. 12, § 2 and MCL 168.482(3).
51. VNP’s general counsel admitted as much in his August 9, 2017 memorandum to the Board: “Creating a ‘commission’ that is not subject to the oversight or authority of the executive branch is a new and significantly different concept not previously found within the 1963 Constitution. Further, though this commission would be housed within the legislative branch, its actions are not subject to approval or oversight by the Legislature. This is another new concept.”
52. We reject intervening defendants’ contention that the statutory republication requirement in MCL 168.482(3) is unconstitutional because it imposes undue burdens on the exercise of the people’s right to propose amendments via voter initiative. When our Supreme Court has applied the requirements of MCL 168.482 to voter initiative-petitions, this Court is bound by that legal authority and for that reason, does not consider the constitutionality of the statute.
53. Intervening defendants argue that Stand Up does not apply here because the language of Const. 1963, art. 2, § 9, which was at issue in Stand Up, is substantially different from the language of Const. 1963, art. 12, § 2 at issue here. Notwithstanding, because our Supreme Court cited Stand Up in Protect Our Jobs, 492 Mich. at 778, 822 N.W.2d 534—which involved Const. 1963, art. 2, § 2—this Court does likewise.
54. “The phrase ‘the existing wording’ should be taken literally.” Massey, 457 Mich. at 418, 579 N.W.2d 862.
55. That statute provides, “Circuit courts have original jurisdiction to hear and determine all civil claims and remedies, except where exclusive jurisdiction is given in the constitution or by statute to some other court or where the circuit courts are denied jurisdiction by the constitution or statutes of this state.”
56. The language from the 1908 Appropriations Clause, Const. 1908, art. 10, § 16, is the same as the language in the current version.
Cavanagh, P.J., and K. F. Kelly and Fort Hood, JJ., concurred.
Response sent, thank you
Docket No: No. 343517
Decided: June 07, 2018
Court: Court of Appeals of Michigan.
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