Article XII of the Michigan Constitution addresses the process by which amendments are made. It is unambiguous and straight-forward…however, the result of these constant intrusions and insults to the foundational document lead to an impressive governmental cluster-fuck.
The state constitution may be amended in three different ways:
1. A Legislative Proposal by popular vote.
2. A Citizen Ballot Initiative by popular vote.
3. A Constitutional Convention, first approved by popular vote.
While these may all sound fairly cumbersome, truly they are not. In fact, it’s commonplace, and in the case of the legislative option, it’s all too easy. Over the past century, about 200 attempts successfully made the ballot, and approximately half of those prevailed.
Michigan’s constitution has had more nips and tucks than Joan Rivers and Madonna combined. And while stretched equally thin in terms of credibility, it doesn’t look half as good as it should for all the work done — its full of wrinkles, lumps and bumps. Even Article XII has gotten a little tweak of its own. A review of Michigan’s constitutional history reveals a well-established pattern of petty tinkering with the details of that master document.
The 1908 version was amended so frequently (69 times out of 126 tries), that by 1963 it made War and Peace look like an easy beach read. The poor thing needed emergency liposuction by constitutional convention just so it didn’t collapse under its own weight. And the “new” 1963 constitution has since been amended so many times it has doubled in size! (Talk about yo-yo dieting!)
Just so you don’t think Michigan’s current crop of lawmakers are a bunch of slackers — a quick search indicates they’ve recently offered no fewer than 75 proposed amendments. Thank goodness most of them die, the amendments that is, before they reach the ballot, but it’s not for a lack of effort from elected leaders to fork it over.
Many, and arguably most, of those past amendments should have been strictly statutory issues –they simply should not have risen to the level of constitutional consideration. Yet they did, and were codified at the highest level purely to insulate them from political winds. Most would have been well-served through a statutory initiative, but Michigan enjoys a long history of pushing amendments where simple legislation should have done.
These burdensome amendments additionally create a snowball effect– since they are basically statutory in nature, and thereby highly detailed, their language needs constant tweaking to best serve the moving target of public policy. They invite a piling-on of supplementary amendments, one after another, to the point that the original intent is often lost.
Over the past few decades alone, Article IX (taxation) has been amended numerous times, ironically using language straight out of existing statutory law, and has thus added over 3,000 words to the state’s already groaning primary governing document. It’s a constitutional hall of mirrors –each amendment leading to another, and another in its turn.
So, where does this all stop?
Not this November, that’s for sure! With five of the six ballot questions being amendment considerations….Michigan voters must ask this key question of themselves (no matter how they feel about the particular issue), does this proposal truly rise to the constitutional level?
Proposals 3, 4 and 6 are more than a bit sketchy in meeting that fundamental criteria. Each pertaining to very exacting union, environmental, or corporate interest issues, they all share the same basic profile of being too specific, too narrow and too time-sensitive. They should all be made to walk-the-walk through legislative fires to become law, if deemed worthy. (I know what you’re thinking, read-on…)
Admittedly, Michigan lawmakers would probably not, on their own, give worthy and honest proposals such as 3 and 4 the legislative time of day, and those same leaders are too chicken-shit to show their true colors by giving disreputable 6, (the bastard child of their affair with corporate cash), a legislative green-light. But is that a valid excuse for voters to further burden the state constitution with more stuff that simply has no place there?
Ethical voters will certainly have to compromise their principles a bit this November to have their causes constitutionally enshrined. This writer being among that group.
(BTW — if you’re waiting for another constitutional facelift, the first likely date for a convention will be about 2026….but even then the prospect won’t be firmer than Madonna’s perfectly manicured million-dollar butt.)
Amy Kerr Hardin