by Bruce Walker
An East Lansing ordinance compelling landlords to urge their tenants to vote has prompted a lawsuit from the Thomas More Society.
On Thursday, attorneys from the conservative Roman Catholic public-interest law firm filed litigation in federal court against East Lansing in response to the city’s ordinance requiring landlords provide voter application forms and voter-registration information to new tenants. Refusal to comply with the law would result in the landlord being charged with a civil infraction.
“By compelling a landlord to inform and provide information to tenants regarding where to register to vote, or by engaging them to act as couriers of the municipality’s ideological messages to prospective tenants, East Lansing is infringing on landlords’ rights,” Erick Kaardal of the law firm said in a statement.
The case is Hagan Realty Inc. v. The City of East Lansing, Michigan in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
“Registering to vote is irrelevant to a tenant’s decision to enter into a lease agreement with a landlord,” Kaardal said in the statement. “The First Amendment protects an individual’s right to refrain from speaking just as much as it protects the right to speak freely. Where East Lansing’s interest is to disseminate an ideology or policy related to voting, no matter how acceptable to some, those interests cannot outweigh the First Amendment right to avoid being the courier of the government’s message.”
The Center Square received an email from the city’s communications administrator Mikell Frey in which she wrote, “East Lansing City Attorney Tony Chubb has provided this statement: ‘As a general practice, we do not comment on pending litigation.’”
Specifically, the law firm takes issue with East Lansing Ordinance, Chapter 6, Article III, Section 6-175 § 1006.4, which states:
“Information to be provided at occupancy. At the time occupancy is given to the tenant, the owner or owner’s legal agent shall provide each tenant with specific information on how to register to vote and the requirements to register, notice that election information and further registration information is available on the Secretary of State’s website as well as the City’s website through the City Clerk department, and a copy of the State of Michigan Voter Registration Application. The failure of an owner or owner’s legal agent to do any act required by this section shall not be construed to affect the validity of the lease or the enforcement of any of the lease provisions. A violation of this section shall be deemed a civil infraction.”
The law firm noted similar ordinances in Minnesota’s Twin Cities were declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2020.
– – –
Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.
Photo “Gavel” by sergeitokmakov.