Fair and Equal Michigan Not Giving Up, Appeals to State Supreme Court on BOE's Rejection of Civil Rights Amendment Petition

Jason A. Michael

Fair and Equal Michigan, the campaign to amend the state's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity through a ballot initiative, has appealed a recent Board of Elections (BOE) decision to reject the initiative to the Michigan Supreme Court. 

This comes after the Board of State Canvassers and the BOE ruled that the petitions Fair and Equal submitted included an insufficient number of valid signatures. Fair and Equal disputes that claim and says the Board failed to follow its own rules in the case. Now, it has asked the Supreme Court to hear their appeal. 

"This is a groundbreaking lawsuit for citizens, and we want our supporters and people throughout Michigan to understand what is at stake," said Fair and Equal Michigan Co-Chair Trevor Thomas at a press conference held this morning to announce the appeal.  "We have raised serious concerns far beyond our fight for equal rights. The outcome of Fair and Equal Michigan's appeal to the Supreme Court may fundamentally impact how ballot campaigns operate in the state moving forward."

Though asking the Supreme Court to intervene before a lower court has heard their appeal is not traditional, it's not unheard of, said Fair and Michigan Chief Counsel Steve Leidel.

"It's not particularly usual for the Supreme Court to take a look at issues without a lower court looking at them first. But that's the case here under the statute that was passed in 2018, which is a helpful reminder for the court that this is about the rule of law and the Michigan Supreme Court, as the state's one court of justice, is the ultimate defender of the rule of law in Michigan."

In its appeal, Fair and Equal has asked the Supreme Court to do several things. First among them is to rule that electronic signatures they submitted were valid. 

"We believe the digital signatures that Fair and Equal submitted were dismissed by the staff at the Bureau of Elections without any basis in statute," Liedel said. "Instead, they indicated that they were doing so based on past practice, notwithstanding the fact that electric signatures had never been submitted before. Michigan law calls for electronic signatures to be treated as regular signatures. We asked the court to address that issue."

Fair and Michigan also asked the court to review petition sheets that were invalidated for reasons not provided for in state election law. 

"We ask the court … to pull a new 4,000-sheet sample," said Liedel. "We emphasize the Board did not follow its own procedures in deciding not to pull a 4,000-sheet sample and instead pulled a 500 sheet one."

Next, Fair and Michigan asked the Court to direct the Board of State Canvassers and the Bureau of Elections to count the new sample and only invalidate signatures when an explicit provision of a Michigan statute mandates that they be invalidated.

"A stray mark on a date or a dual jurisdiction is not a valid reason," Liedel said, adding that he expected no immediate action by the court since Fair and Michigan has until next July to get the issue on the ballot.

Regardless of the timeline, Thomas said Fair and Michigan is confident in their case.

"This decision to file is not something we take lightly and are doing so with the deepest respect and love for our Constitution and our great state. We believe there is more that brings us together than forces us apart. … For us, we're not just another petition campaign, this is our humanity."