Michigan Supreme Court ruled 4-3 Thursday to keep Detroit Proposal P charter revision on Aug. 3 ballot

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled 4-3 on July 29 that Proposal P—a ballot measure to replace the Detroit City Charter—could stay on the August 3 ballot.

Michigan Supreme Court Justices Welch, Bernstein, McCormack, and Cavanagh voted to overturn the lower courts’ decisions, keeping Proposal P on the ballot. Justices Viviano, Clement, and Zahra dissented. The court ruled that, while the Home Rule Cities Act was unclear about the role that the governor should play in a charter revision ballot question, the Michigan State Constitution gives control over a city’s charter to its voters.

If Proposal P is approved on August 3, it would make changes to multiple sections of Detroit’s City Charter. Some highlighted changes include

  1. allowing for free public broadband internet;
  2. adding new police training programs;
  3. prohibiting certain types of police conduct, such as no-knock warrants, firing tear gas or rubber bullets at protesters, and accepting federal military surplus equipment;
  4. setting up a task force to address reparations for Detroit’s Black residents;
  5. creating a property tax overassessment relief program; and
  6. enacting policy designed to promote affordable access to water for the city’s residents.

The Supreme Court’s decision came after a months-long legal battle over whether Detroit could vote on a charter revision ballot measure without the governor’s approval.

It began last February when the Detroit Charter Revision Commission, which was created by 2018’s Proposal R, completed its draft of the revised charter. The draft was approved by Detroit’s City Clerk in March and then sent to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer according to the Michigan Home Rule Cities Act. Gov. Whitmer declined to approve the revised charter and returned it with feedback. Attorney General Dana Nessel said that Proposal P could remain on the ballot despite the lack of approval from Gov. Whitmer, and the Detroit Elections Commission certified Proposal P in May.

Following Proposal P’s certification, two lawsuits were filed seeking to block the measure from the ballot. The lawsuits argued that the Home Rule Cities Act (HRCA) required Gov. Whitmer’s approval to put Proposal P on the ballot. The defendants argued that the HRCA didn’t explicitly require the governor’s approval for certifying a charter revision ballot measure.

The Wayne County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on May 26. The Detroit Charter Revision Commission filed appeals with the Michigan Court of Appeals and Michigan Supreme Court. On June 3, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the Wayne County Circuit Court’s decision. These rulings would have struck Proposal P from the August 3 ballot, but the Michigan Supreme Court suspended the Circuit Court’s ruling on June 1 and the Court of Appeals ruling on June 4.