Sheffield v. Detroit City Clerk

Decision Date29 July 2021
Docket NumberCOA: 357299,SC: 163085,COA: 357298,SC: 163084
Citation962 N.W.2d 157 (Mem)
Parties Horace SHEFFIELD, III, and Rodrick Harbin, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. DETROIT CITY CLERK and Detroit Election Commission, Defendants, and Detroit Charter Revision Commission, Intervening Defendant-Appellant. Allen A. Lewis and Ingrid D. White, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Detroit City Clerk and Detroit Election Commission, Defendants, and Detroit Charter Revision Commission, Intervening Defendant-Appellant.
CourtMichigan Supreme Court
Order

On July 7, 2021, the Court heard oral argument on the application for leave to appeal the June 3, 2021 judgment of the Court of Appeals. On order of the Court, the application is again considered. MCR 7.305(H)(1). In lieu of granting leave to appeal, we REVERSE the judgment of the Court of Appeals and the Wayne Circuit Court's May 26, 2021 opinion and order granting mandamus relief, and we REMAND this case to the circuit court for further proceedings not inconsistent with this order.

In this matter, we are asked to decide whether the Detroit Charter Revision Commission may submit a proposed revised charter to voters notwithstanding the fact that the Governor has not signed or given her approval to the proposed revised charter. At issue is MCL 117.22, which says:

Every amendment to a city charter whether passed pursuant to the provisions of this act or heretofore granted or passed by the state legislature for the government of such city, before its submission to the electors, and every charter before the final adjournment of the commission, shall be transmitted to the governor of the state. If he shall approve it, he shall sign it; if not, he shall return the charter to the commission and the amendment to the legislative body of the city, with his objections thereto, which shall be spread at large on the journal of the body receiving them, and if it be an amendment proposed by the legislative body, such body shall re-consider it, and if 2/3 of the members-elect agree to pass it, it shall be submitted to the electors. If it be an amendment proposed by initiatory petition, it shall be submitted to the electors notwithstanding such objections.

The statute is clear that both charter amendments and charter revisions must be "transmitted to the governor of the state." Charter amendments must be transmitted before submission to the electors, while charter revisions must be transmitted before final adjournment of the commission. After review, the Governor shall sign the amendment or revision if she approves it. The statute also differentiates between amendments proposed by a legislative body and amendments proposed by initiatory petition. The statute is clear about what happens next for both types of charter amendments if the Governor objects to and returns them. For amendments proposed by a legislative body, "such body shall reconsider it, and if 2/3 of the members-elect agree to pass it, it shall be submitted to the electors." MCL 117.22. For amendments proposed by initiatory petition, "it shall be submitted to the electors notwithstanding such objections."1 MCL 117.22. The statute does not address the situation where, as in the instant case, a charter revision is returned without the Governor's approval.2

Plaintiffs would have us read the statute's current silence with regard to charter revisions as vesting the Governor with an unfettered and irreversible veto over the work of a charter commission that would deprive the electorate of a city of any opportunity to vote on a revised charter unless and until the Governor gives her approval. Pursuant to Article 7, § 22 of the 1963 Constitution, "[u]nder general laws the electors of each city and village shall have the power and authority to frame, adopt and amend its charter ...." (Emphasis added.) Article 7, § 22 describes itself as a "general grant of authority" that "[n]o enumeration of powers granted to cities and villages in this constitution shall limit or restrict ...." Article 7, § 34 further directs that "[t]he provisions of this constitution and law concerning counties, townships, cities and villages shall be liberally construed in their favor. " (Emphasis added.) Based on these provisions, we have previously held that "it is clear that home rule cities enjoy not only those powers specifically granted, but they may also exercise all powers not expressly denied." Detroit v Walker , 445 Mich. 682, 690, 520 N.W.2d 135 (1994).

Reading MCL 117.22 in isolation, plaintiffs’ position may not seem unreasonable. But we must read MCL 117.22 against the backdrop of Article 7, §§ 22 and 34 of the 1963 Constitution and subsequent developments in our caselaw since their adoption. Under Article 7, § 22, the electors of cities are vested with control over their cities’ charters, and Article 7, § 34 states that statutory and constitutional provisions concerning cities should be liberally construed in their favor. When read together, these constitutional provisions lead us to conclude that, in the face of the statute's silence as to the legal effect of the Governor's objection to a proposed charter revision, we cannot interpret such silence as requiring gubernatorial approval before a charter revision is submitted to the electors or as granting the Governor a veto power that cannot be overridden. We decline to read into MCL 117.22 a requirement that is not explicitly spelled out, bearing in mind that cities continue to enjoy "powers not expressly denied," Walker , 445 Mich. at 690, 520 N.W.2d 135, and the electorate of a city is entitled to the final word as to whether a revised charter is to be adopted, Const. 1963, art. 7, § 22. Because MCL 117.22 does not explicitly provide the Governor with an unfettered veto in the charter revision process, we decline to create one from the statute's silence.

Because the circuit court did not address other issues raised by the parties in light of its ruling on the count for mandamus, we REMAND this case to that court for any further necessary proceedings not inconsistent with this order.

Welch, J. (concurring).

I concur with the majority's order allowing the Detroit Charter Revision Commission (DCRC) to submit the proposed revised charter to the voters of the city of Detroit. The principal task before the Court is to determine whether MCL 117.22 precludes a proposed revised charter from being submitted to the electors without the approval and signature of the Governor. While I appreciate Justice VIVIANO ’s thorough analysis, I disagree with his view that the only reasonable reading of MCL 117.22 prevents such a revised charter from being submitted to the electors under these circumstances and that Const. 1963, art. 7, §§ 22 and 34 have no role in this case. I write separately to explain why I believe that the Court's refusal to interpret silence in the statute as granting the Governor a one-of-a-kind, unfettered veto power that cannot be overridden under any circumstance if she returns a proposed revised charter without her approval is consistent with our constitutional obligations, precedent from this Court, and core principles of democratic governance.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In the August 2018 primary election, Detroit residents voted yes on a proposal to begin a general revision to the Detroit City Charter.3 The members of the DCRC were then elected in the November 2018 general election, and the DCRC was tasked with drafting a proposed revised charter. Under MCL 117.18, the DCRC had no more than three years to accomplish this task and obtain approval of the revised charter from Detroit residents. The DCRC asserts that it has held over 400 formal and informal meetings, reviewed approximately 315 proposed revisions, considered more than 200 public comments relating to a preliminary draft, engaged with community leaders and a variety of interest groups, and spent hundreds of hours and more than $700,000 of taxpayer money in its efforts to create a comprehensive revised city charter.

The DCRC, pursuant to MCL 117.22, submitted its proposed revised charter to Governor Whitmer on March 5, 2021, and requested expedited review. On April 30, 2021, the Governor returned the proposed revised charter without her signature, and instead provided comments and objections in the form of a legal memorandum prepared by the Attorney General. The Governor identified what she viewed as "substantial and extensive legal deficiencies," the substance of which the DCRC contests.

For ballot certification purposes, the DCRC dubbed the charter revision question "Proposal P." The DCRC adopted a resolution to submit Proposal P—which reads, "Shall the City of Detroit Home Rule Charter proposed by the Detroit Charter Revision Commission be adopted?"—to the Detroit City Clerk on May 6, 2021. On May 11, 2021, the Detroit Election Commission voted 2-1 to place the proposal on the ballot.

The DCRC transmitted what was apparently intended to be a new draft of the proposed revised charter to the Governor on May 13, 2021. The Governor declined to review the new draft, stating that the May 11, 2021 deadline for submitting ballot wording to the Detroit City Clerk under MCL 168.646a(2) had passed. The DCRC has since abandoned the May 13, 2021 draft and has conceded that the only revised charter that will be considered by voters is the one that was previously submitted to the Governor on March 5, 2021.

The plaintiffs include groups of Detroit residents who filed two separate lawsuits against the Detroit City Clerk and Detroit Election Commission (hereinafter "defendants") seeking a writ of mandamus, among other relief. The Wayne Circuit Court consolidated the cases and allowed the DCRC to intervene. Following briefing and a hearing, the circuit court granted plaintiffs’ requested mandamus relief and ordered defendants to remove Proposal P from the August ballot, holding, among other things, that MCL 117.22 requires a city charter revision to be approved by the Governor before it can be...

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