A bipartisan group of former lawmakers filed a lawsuit last week in an effort to overturn Michigan’s “draconian” term limits law.
The lawsuit targets a 1992 amendment to the Michigan Constitution that was passed by voters through a ballot initiative. Under the amendment, state representatives are limited to three, two-year terms (six years total), while state senators are restricted to two, four-year terms (eight years total).
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Democrats David Nathan, Scott Dianda, Clark Harder, Mary Valentine and Douglas Spade, and Republicans Roger Kahn, Paul Opsommer and Joseph Haveman. Valentine is the only one of the eight who is eligible for one more two-year term.
The lawsuit claims that Michigan has “created a system that wrongfully excludes qualified candidates like Plaintiffs from appearing on the state legislative ballot while denying an undetermined number of voters the opportunity to vote for the candidates of their choice.”
“Michigan’s term limits can survive no level of scrutiny,” the complaint continues. “Instead, the amendment has proven a failed social experiment; it has decreased the experience and competency of the legislature, decreased bipartisanship and coalition building, increased dynastic and recruitment-based representation, and increased the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups.”
The suit calls Michigan’s term limits the “most severe in the nation,” saying they “ensure a legislative body lacking experience.”
The plaintiffs argue that the term limits violate their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights as well as the Guarantee Clause of the U.S. Constitution by restricting their “access to the ballot.”
According to the lawsuit, Michigan’s term limits forced 34 lawmakers out of office in 2014 with a “combined 248 years experience.” The senate majority leader, senate minority leader, and house speaker were among those forced to leave. In 2019, the term limits forced nearly 70 percent of state senators and more than 20 percent of state representatives out of office.
“Proponents of term limits posited that such sweeping change would be a positive development—promoting less emphasis on reelection efforts, reducing the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups, and promoting diversity and new ideas. But research demonstrates that the proponents’ hypotheses failed,” the suit adds.
The Associated Press reports that a federal judge in Detroit and the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a similar challenge filed by four Michigan voters in 1998. The new lawsuit is being paid for by Michiganders for Good Government, a “social welfare” nonprofit.
Patrick Anderson, an economist and author of the 1992 term limits amendment, criticized the lawsuit.
“I think it’s disgraceful that legislators that took an oath to uphold the Michigan Constitution are now asking a federal judge to set it aside,” he said. “Michigan’s constitution allows voters who want to amend it a clear opportunity to do so. I think it’s going to be a very, very high hill to climb to convince judges to overrule voters.”
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan and names Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in her official capacity as the defendant.
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Michigan Capitol” by Brian Charles Watson. CC BY-SA 3.0.