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Appeals court finds federal judge should not have told Michigan how to run its election

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court ruled a lower court erred when it told the state of Michigan exactly how to accommodate candidates trying to get on the August primary ballot.

Some state and federal candidates claimed Michigan’s stay home order prevented them from collecting enough signatures to qualify for the August ballot. 

Last month, U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg ruled that the state of Michigan must give candidates more time to collect signatures and collect fewer of them. Specifically, Berg ordered the state to accept signatures through May 8th , accept electronic signatures and allow candidates to submit 50% of the required signatures.

But the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decided this week that Berg’s order imposing specific requirements breached the court’s Constitutional authority.

Simply put, federal courts have no authority to dictate to the States precisely how they should conduct their elections. See Clingman v. Beaver, 544 U.S. 581, 586 (2005) (“The Constitution grants States broad power to prescribe the ‘Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives,’ Art. I, § 4, cl. 1, which power is matched by state control over the election process for state offices.” (citations and quotation marks omitted)). This is the States’ constitutionally protected right.

The higher court concluded the state of Michigan can take Berg’s guidance to make “reasonable accommodation to aggrieved candidates.”

Berg’s April 20th ruling included candidates for federal office, as well as for Wayne County Community College Trustee, all Judicial offices (only for candidates who are not the current incumbents) and any city office where the city charter does not allow the option to file with a fee.

The suit was originally brought by 11th congressional district Republican candidateEric Esshaki.Esshaki claimed the governor’s stay home order prevented him from collecting the final signatures he needed to qualify for a spot on the ballot. After the ruling, Esshaki ended up submitting more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot by the state’s original April 21 deadline.

Esshaki accused the state of Michigan of “playing politics” with its legal filings.

“This is a great day for those who believe politicians cannot throw out the constitution,” Esshaki said after Tuesday’s appeals court ruling. “Governor Whitmer’s assault on democracy and freedom has been stopped for a third time.”

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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