WSW: Cleaning Up Michigan's Constitution

Jul 31, 2015

The Michigan Constitution
Credit Aaronjbaylis, Wikimedia Commons

“If we’re going to have a written Constitution it should be up to date,” says Craig Thiel, Senior Research Associate for the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

A new report from the Citizens Research Council is called A Reminder to Clean up the Michigan Constitution. It says several sections of the state Constitution have been made invalid over the years. Thiel says court rulings, such as this year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that made gay marriage legal, are the most common way for a part of the state Constitution to become obsolete.

But a change in the federal Constitution can also invalidate part of the state’s main governing document. The Michigan Constitution drafted in 1963 sets the state’s voting age at 18. But the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1971. That required all states to set the voting age at no higher than 18.

When Michigan voters approved a term limits amendment in 1992, it applied to state office holders and U.S. Congressional Representatives and Senators from Michigan. But the Supreme Court later ruled that states can’t limit the terms of members of Congress. 

Thiel says removing any of these archaic sections from the state Constitution would require a vote of the people. He says petition signatures could be gathered to put those revisions on the ballot. Thiel says another option is for the Legislature to put the issue before voters. That would require a super-majority of both the state House and Senate. Thiel says placing the issue on the statewide ballot in 2016 would not cost the state any additional money since there will already be an election held in November of next year.

The Citizens Research Council Report calls for deleting obsolete sections of the Constitution. It also calls for changing how district lines are drawn for Congressional and state Legislative districts. The 1963 Michigan Constitution called for an independent redistricting commission. That was invalidated by a State Supreme Court ruling. Since then state lawmakers have been in charge of the redistricting process. Thiel says whatever the process is for drawing new boundaries it should be spelled out in the state Constitution. He says an independent commission would help separate redistricting from the political process.

Image from Wikimedia Commons