Federal Judge Rejects Michigan Republicans’ Challenge To Pro-Voting Amendments

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two pro-voting amendments to the Michigan Constitution will remain untouched after a federal judge today dismissed a lawsuit from 11 Republican state legislators who sought to invalidate the constitutional provisions using the rejected independent state legislature (ISL) theory

The challenged amendments, which were enshrined in the Michigan Constitution via voter-approved ballot initiative petitions in 2018 and 2022 respectively, added robust pro-voting reforms to the state constitution. Included among the amendments’ provisions are the right to cast an absentee ballot for any reason, an expanded early in-person voting period, automatic voter registration and more. 

In their September 2023 lawsuit, GOP legislators argued that in addition to nullifying the 2018 and 2022 amendments, the court should ban the future use of ballot initiative petitions that would — if approved by voters — change how the state constitution regulates the “times, places, and manner of federal elections.” 

The Republican plaintiffs premised their arguments on the unfounded ISL theory — which was largely rebuffed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2023 decision in Moore v. Harper — to contend that voter-approved amendments regulating federal elections “are an unconstitutional usurpation of state legislator’s rights to participate in law-making decisions under the Elections Clause” of the U.S. Constitution. 

Employing the ISL theory, the GOP state legislators specifically interpreted the Elections Clause to mean that state legislatures have the sole authority to set rules for federal elections, free from state constitutional review by courts, citizen-approved ballot initiatives and other parts of the state government. According to the now-dismissed lawsuit, the Michigan Legislature’s power was “undermined” due to its lack of involvement in the ballot initiative process.

In today’s ruling, Biden-appointed Judge Jane M. Beckering put an end to the GOP plaintiffs’ attempt to resurrect the ISL theory, concluding that they lack standing to bring their claims. 

State officials, in refuting the GOP lawmakers’ claims about lack of legislative involvement, previously pointed out in court filings that the state Legislature has already taken steps to codify the pro-voting amendments’ reforms into law. Since 2018, the state’s Democratic-controlled Legislature has enacted over 20 laws that effectuate the amendments’ voting-related rights. 

The efficacy of the amendments already manifested in record-high turnout during the 2020 election, with absentee ballots constituting nearly 57% of all ballots cast and nearly 28,000 voters registering to vote on Election Day proper. As a result of Beckering’s ruling, the amendments will remain in effect and will continue to benefit Michigan voters in 2024 and beyond. 

Read the order here. 

Learn more about the case here.