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What Public Offices Are Subject To Term Limits In Michigan?

 

On November 3, 1992, Michigan voters enacted Proposal B, the Michigan Term Limits Amendment, which amended the state constitution to limit the number of terms that state officials may serve.  The amendments read as follows:

  • “No person shall be elected more than two times to each office of the executive branch of government: governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state or attorney general. Any person appointed or elected to fill a vacancy in the office of governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state or attorney general for a period greater than one half of a term of such office, shall be considered to have been elected to serve one time in that office for purposes of this section. This limitation on the number of times a person shall be elected to office shall apply to terms of office beginning on or after January 1, 1993.  This section shall be self-executing. Legislation may be enacted to facilitate operation of this section, but no law shall limit or restrict the application of this section. If any part of this section is held to be invalid or unconstitutional, the remaining parts of this section shall not be affected but will remain in full force and effect.”  Const. 1963, art. v, §30.
  • “No person shall be elected to the office of state representative more than three times. No person shall be elected to the office of state senate more than two times. Any person appointed or elected to fill a vacancy in the house of representatives or the state senate for a period greater than one half of a term of such office, shall be considered to have been elected to serve one time in that office for purposes of this section. This limitation on the number of times a person shall be elected to office shall apply to terms of office beginning on or after January 1, 1993.  This section shall be self-executing. Legislation may be enacted to facilitate operation of this section, but no law shall limit or restrict the application of this section. If any part of this section is held to be invalid or unconstitutional, the remaining parts of this section shall not be affected but will remain in full force and effect.”  Const. 1963, art. iv, §54.

The voters also approved an amendment that would limit Michigan representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives to only three terms during any twelve-year period and Michigan senators to the U.S. Senate to only two terms in any twenty-four-year period.  Const. 1963, art. ii, §10.  However, the federal judiciary struck down all state-law term limits on congressional officeholders after a lawsuit was filed.  In U.S. Term Limits, Inc v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779, 115 S Ct 1842; 131 L Ed 2d 884 (1995), the U.S. Supreme Court found that an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution prohibiting the name of an otherwise-eligible candidate for Congress from appearing on the ballot if that candidate had already served 3 terms in the House of Representatives and 2 terms in the Senate was in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court held that: “(1) states may not impose qualifications for offices of the United States representative or United States senator in addition to those set forth by the Constitution; (2) power to set additional qualifications was not reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment; and (3) state provision is unconstitutional when it has likely effect of handicapping a class of candidates and has sole purpose of creating additional qualifications indirectly.”  At the time of the ruling, 23 states (including Michigan) had term-limit provisions in their state constitutions that were suddenly nullified.  However, term limits remain in full force and effect against state officeholders.

Term limits in Michigan remain very popular among voters.  Some of the benefits of a state legislature with frequent turnover include:

  • Limiting the influence of “career politicians”, which can reduce the influence of lobbyists and the prevalence of corruption.
  • The increase of fresh faces every term means an increase in fresh ideas (Incumbency will lose some of its powerful advantage).
  • Politicians may be more inclined to be brave and make bold decisions rather than be preoccupied with their next election.

Of course, many lawmakers and special interest groups dislike term limits.  They bemoan that it takes power away from the voters to place experienced lawmakers in office.  Opponents say that the unintended consequence is a legislature full of inexperienced senators and representatives without the know-how to draft and pass effective statutes.  As a result, many elected legislators merely look at their office as a stepping stone to a higher office and do not invest the time or energy in being the best representative to their current constituents that they can be.

In November 2019, a bipartisan group of former members of the Michigan Legislature (Roger Kahn, Scott Dianda, Clark Harder, Joseph Haveman, David E. Nathan, Paul Opsommer and Douglas Spade) and one current legislator (Mary Valentine) filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking declaratory relief and a permanent injunction against the operation of the term limits amendment.  The suit names Jocelyn Benson, in her official capacity as Secretary of State, as the Defendant.  The plaintiffs claim that “[t]hose term limits – the shortest in the nation and paired with a lifetime ban – violate Plaintiffs’ federal constitutional rights and ensure a legislative body lacking experience, the quality that James Madison singled out in The Federalist Papers as essential to a competent and well-functioning legislature.”  It remains to be seen if these former politicians will be successful in their efforts.

The lawsuit is financially supported by Michiganders for Good Government, a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofit group.  The donors of this lobbying group are unknown, although the organization was formed by Rusty Merchant, a former Republican aide, in 2018.  It should be noted that similar court actions in other states to repeal the term limit amendments in their constitutions have failed.  Of course, the most effective way to modify and eliminate term limits is to propose a voter referendum on the ballot for the public to decide if they want to return to a regime of “career politicians”.  The success or failure of such a measure will depend on the voter’s confidence (or lack thereof) in their elected leaders at any given point in time.

If you have further questions about election law or need legal representation, then do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC for assistance today.

 

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