Federal court rejects lawsuit of 11 state legislators

On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Jane Beckering,  Western District of Michigan, granted Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by 11 Republican state legislators against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and Jonathan Brater, the state’s elections director. The attorney general argued the legislators lacked standing to bring the lawsuit in their capacities as legislators, taxpayers, or as voters, and on Wednesday the court made clear its agreement.

The 11 legislators sought to challenge the constitutionality of Michigan’s voter-initiated amendments to the state constitution as the process applies to election laws impacting federal elections. Specifically, they attempted to challenge Proposal 3 of 2018 and Proposal 2 of 2022, now enshrined in the state constitution in article 2, section 4. Their arguments relied on the radical constitutional theory known as the “independent state legislature” theory, which is used to argue that neither the courts nor the voters can ever make or modify election laws that relate to a federal election as those powers are delegated in whole and exclusively to the state legislature under the elections clause of the U.S. Constitution. The theory re-emerged as a right-wing fringe interpretation often espoused in support of former president Donald Trump’s undemocratic efforts to steal the 2020 presidential election.  The U.S. Supreme Court also rejected the theory in 2023.

“This lawsuit was absurd and baseless from its inception, and I am glad the court saw the plaintiffs obvious lack of standing,” said Nessel. “Our democracy is participatory, and in Michigan citizen initiatives and referendums have long played a vital role in making our state government better reflect the values of our people. I am proud to stand up for democracy in Michigan, and will robustly defend our voters’ rights to their own constitution, and to work democratically to create the State and future they dream of.”

The court on Wednesday dismissed the lawsuit citing the clear caselaw that demonstrates legislators do not have standing to bring a lawsuit as individual legislators. Other grounds for dismissal were additionally cited.  

"I’m gratified to see the judge dismiss this lawsuit that attempted to deny Michigan voters their right to enact laws that reflect their values,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said.  “The idea that the time, place and manner of federal elections law-making is beyond the right of voters to self-determine is anti-democratic. I will always defend Michigan voters’ right to amend our constitution through ballot initiatives when elected representatives are unable or unwilling to uphold the will of the people.”

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