The controversial emergency financial manager law will be put up to a public referendum this November, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in a complex Stand Up for Democracy v. Secretary of State opinion.
The referendum had been challenged because the petitions were allegedly printed with the wrong font in the heading.
The Court of Appeals found that the petitions didn’t comply with state law, but that it’s hands were tied by precedent set in Bloomfield Charter Twp. v. Oakland County Clerk. Despite it’s protestations over the precedent, the Court of Appeals was bound by it and ruled that the petitions “substantially complied” with the statutory requirements.
Surely to the delight of that Court of Appeals panel, the Michigan Supreme Court overruled the Bloomfield Charter Twp decision, finding that the language of the statute doesn’t allow for “substantial compliance” with its requirements.
However, the court found that the statute requires that the “type,” rather than the “letters” measure 14 points, and ruled that the plaintiff’s petitions actually complied with the statute. In the lead opinion, Justice Mary Beth Kelly explained:
The parties’ views diverge, however, with respect to whether the phrase “printed in capital letters in 14-point boldfaced type” requires measurement of the “letters” or of the “type.” Intervenor, like the Court of Appeals, interprets the phrase to require that the “letters” measure 14 points. We disagree with this interpretation and conclude that the type must measure 14 points, not the resulting printed letters. This is because the technical definition of “point” specifically denotes that point measures type size, which is the entire vertical length of the printer’s block. As explained, the technical meanings of “point” and “type” necessarily incorporate some amount of blank space so that the capital letters in 14-point type do not necessarily measure 14/72 of an inch.
The court ordered the Board of State Canvassers to certify the petition, allowing for it to be put on the ballot this November.
Chief Justice Robert Young Jr., along with Justices Brian Zahra and Stephen Markman, concurred in the portion of the opinion that requires that the petitions actually comply with the statute, thus overturning the Bloomfield Township case. Young dissented on whether this petition actually complied with the statute:
On this question, Justice MARY BETH KELLY believes that it is possible on this record, and with reference to extrarecord materials, both to determine how a digitized computer font is produced and that the font at issue here meets the statutory size requirement. She does so by invoking judicial notice. We do not share Justice MARY BETH KELLY’s technical literacy: we lack the necessary knowledge of printing and, more important, the programming necessary to create computer fonts. Therefore, we respectfully dissent from her conclusion that plaintiff actually complied with the type size requirements in MCL 168.482(2).
Justices Michael Cavanagh, Marilyn Kelly and Diane Hathaway dissented from Mary Beth Kelly’s opinion overturning the Bloomfield Twp. case, but concurred with her ultimate result that the plaintiff’s writ of mandamus should be issued and the proposal be put on the ballot.
UPDATE: From Phil Turner, in the comments:
For the sake of completeness, you should add that Young and Zahra wanted to remand to the Board of Canvassers to allow Stand Up the opportunity to supplement the record with additional evidence of actual compliance. They believe that this evidence may very well exist (and thus could support a right to have the referendum placed on the ballot), but because no one knew the proper legal standard for measuring 14-point boldfaced type, it simply did not exist in the record before the Court.