CHICAGO — The Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday morning over whether to allow a measure that would overturn the state’s controversial emergency-manager law to appear on the November ballot.
The justices questioned attorneys about font sizes as they considered whether to approve petitions submitted with more than 200,000 valid signatures, but with headlines that feature a smaller print size than required by election rules.
The high court is not expected to rule today but will rule before Sept. 7, the deadline to get the language on the Nov. 6 ballot.
If approved, the law, Public Act 4, aimed at bolstering fiscally challenged governments around the state, will automatically be suspended until the November election.
It’s the last stop for a months-long fight that has wound its way through Michigan’s court system.
Supporters of the referendum, a group called Stand Up for Democracy, submitted more than 200,000 valid signatures to put the question on the ballot, 40,000 more than required.
But a group opposed to the referendum, called Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, argued that the font size on the petition headlines was too small.
The State Board of Canvassers deadlocked on the issue, which effectively rejected the petitions.
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in late June that the question could go on the ballot, and the case was then appealed to the Supreme Court.
The courtroom Wednesday morning was full while around 100 protesters chanted outside the building, according to local reports.
Public Act 4 significantly broadens the state’s power to intervene in and rule over fiscally troubled local governmental entities, and has sparked risng criticism since Gov. Rick Snyder signed it in March 2011.
It overhauled Michigan’s existing 20-year-old law for dealing with distressed governments and gave emergency managers broad new powers, including the ability to terminate labor contracts, strip local ordinances, hold millage elections, and even dissolve a government with the governor’s approval.
Supporters said the overhaul was necessary to bolster failing municipalities and school districts and offer tools to avoid bankruptcy.
Critics called it an assault on democracy and labor rights.
Four cities — Benton Harbor, Flint, Ecorse and Pontiac — have emergency managers, with others under consideration. Three school districts, including Detroit Public Schools, are also under state control.
The city of Detroit so far has avoided a full state takeover by agreeing to a consent decree with Michigan, an alternative outlined in the law.