In a victory for clarity in direct
democracy, on March 26, an Ingham County court found that the
language of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative would “alter
or abrogate” an existing state constitutional statute, and
accordingly, needed to make its ultimate intent explicit within the
text of the petition. Days later, citing the need to remain
consistent with state precedent, Attorney General Mike Cox
announced that he would be appealing the decision to a higher
court. By appealing in favor of a petition with wording the court
found inappropriately vague, Cox has again put his political agenda
over the best interests of the state.

Mira Levitan

In several well-publicized incidents, Cox has failed to act in
concert with Lansing, or with the state’s public
universities, during the fight to save affirmative action in
Michigan. Last year, he refused Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s
request to file a brief at the U.S. Supreme Court in support of
affirmative action at the University — a move many called
politically motivated. Now, Cox, without consulting the State Board
of Canvassers, has decided to appeal the court decision that
invalidated the MCRI’s petition.

In making his case, Cox has downplayed the significance of the
MCRI, maintaining that the Ingham court’s ruling
“creates too onerous a burden on those who choose to engage
in democratic debate.” However, it must be clear to both Cox
and the state that the MCRI is more than just “democratic
debate” — it is a proposal to amend the state
constitution. As such, it is not unreasonable to ask that the
language of such petitions explicitly enumerates their operative
clauses. Regardless, it is surprising that the Attorney General
would advocate in favor of a standard that allows for vague or
misleading language on any ballot initiative. Should Cox prove
successful in his appeal, it will be to the detriment of voters on
both ends of the political spectrum, who would then be left to
consider the veiled merits of a deficient and confusing petition.
Although the attorney general’s office will argue that an
appellate court was the MCRI’s next logical battleground,
Cox’s decision to act on his own accord remains highly
questionable. As the defendant in the case, the State Board of
Canvassers deserved consultation prior to the appeal being
filed.

Some hailed the decision to nullify an attack on the
state’s racial preference policy as a victory for affirmative
action; others saw the quashing of an vague and deceptive ballot
initiative as a triumph for democracy. At any rate, Cox’s
rejoinder helped many Michigan residents reach a common opinion:
Cox’s decision to unilaterally appeal was disgraceful. As the
first Republican elected to the position in almost 50 years, Cox
has devoted much of his term to pandering to his conservative base.
But in the end, Cox’s main problem is not that he advanced
party politics throughout his term; it is that he hijacked the
state’s democratic process in order to do so at the expense
of Michigan voters.

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