Yesterday’s ram-rod effort in the Michigan Senate to judicially inoculate Gov. Snyder and GOP lawmakers from culpability for their out-of-control epidemic of bad laws may seem like just another in a long line of misbehaviors, but its much more. The law would strip Ingham County Circuit Court of its jurisdiction in claims against the state, and move authority to judges hand-picked by the GOP-leaning Michigan Supreme Court. If signed into law, this will not only protect officials, but it will protect the laws themselves, including this awful law. Yes, it would be a law that protects itself. It’s the legislative equivalent of declaring infallibility — apparently born in the spirit of former Egyptian President Morsi, who similarly gave himself authority over the courts. (How’d that work out?)
The bill was referred to the five-member House Committee on Government Operations earlier today, and is expected to receive the same slap-dash, fast-track treatment from the Republican majority there that it got in the Senate.
And it’s comprehensive in scope. The bill has a section that would require “all matters pending in the court of claims [Ingham County Circuit Court] as of the effective date of this amendatory act that added this subsection shall be transferred to the clerk of the court of appeals.”
House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-53), a second-term congressman from the Ann Arbor area, shared his thoughts with Democracy Tree on this latest GOP legislative assault on Michigan’s constitution and on a citizen’s right to basic judicial due process. Irwin explained that the law is a rather obvious violation of the state constitution:
This idea is fraught with challenges. Aside from the logistical challenges, the Constitution states that the Court of Appeals is formed to hear “appeals.” Converting the court to a fact-finding body likely runs afoul of the plain language of the word “appeal.” Perhaps the Supreme Court will employ some creative interpretation, but the Michigan Constitution is straightforward on this point.
He went on to detail how, if this law were put into practice, it would negatively impact citizens’ rights to seek redress through the courts.
Also, the bill seems to eliminate the right of citizens to hold state employees personally accountable for their actions. Not only does this shield bad actors from personal accountability, it also denies citizens their right to a jury trial in those cases. Currently, the process allows for state employees to be sued personally in specific instances such as a state employee driving drunk or taking advantage of a youth under their direction. Those cases would now be folded in with the larger case against the state itself. Just to reiterate, this is a terrible idea because it prevents accountability and denies the citizens a right they currently have.
No public servant accountability? Not a problem, because they simply would never engage in misconduct of any kind while acting in an official capacity, right? Pure as the driven snow are they.
In seriousness, the concern is that even a legal challenge to this law will be protected by the same type of political bias it intends to enhance as it moves up the food chain of the Michigan court system. It will become a “because I said so” argument. Even the new Pope wouldn’t claim that level of infallibility.
Amy Kerr Hardin