At least for the time being, the new Oakland County Board of Commissioners district lines approved last spring by Democrats will stand now that the state Court of Appeals has upheld — in part — an Ingham County Circuit Court judge’s ruling that a new state law giving power over the redistricting process to the county board’s Republican majority is unconstitutional.
The 2-1 split ruling, with Judges Michael J. Kelly and Amy Ronayne Krause in the majority and Judge Patrick M. Meter offering a dissenting opinion, effectively means that the two main goals of Public Act (PA) 280 of 2011 — forking over control of the reapportionment process to the county board and winnowing that body’s total membership from 25 to no more than 21 commissioners — will go unaccomplished.
The two jurists determined that PA 280 constituted a purely local act affecting only Oakland County, and therefore violated Section 29 of Article 4 of the Michigan Constitution prohibiting the state Legislature from enacting a “local or special act in any case where a general act can be made applicable” without a two-thirds vote of state lawmakers.
PA 280 is designed to change the county board redistricting process only for counties with a population of 1 million or more that have adopted a unified form of county government and have an elected county executive. At the time Gov. Rick Snyder signed state Rep. Bradford Jacobsen’s (R-Lake Orion) enacting legislation, House Bill 5187, only Oakland County was affected.
The appeals court ruling also concurred with Circuit Court Judge William Collette’s Feb. 15 ruling that, because of a requirement that reapportionment take place within 30 days of the law’s enactment, PA 280 of 2011 constitutes a purely local act.
“The practical effect of our decision today is to permit Oakland County to retain its current level of commissioners and its current apportionment until after the next decennial census,” the ruling states, adding that the court “must uphold the constitutionality of the act to the greatest extent possible” and therefore “not invalidate the entire act if the offending provisions can be severed from the act.”
County Democrats called the Wednesday, March 7 ruling a victory for the rule of law.
“The bottom line is, we are thrilled that the Court of Appeals has agreed with us that the Republican power-grab legislation was clearly an unconstitutional act,” said Oakland County Democratic Party Chairman Frank Houston, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit and helmed the five-member Oakland County Reapportionment Commission that redrew district lines last year.
County GOP brass, which pushed for the rules change following an unsuccessful challenge to the constitutionality of the new district lines approved in May, said they will proceed with an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, which has a 5-4 Republican majority.
Bill Mullan, media and communications officer for county Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who supported the law on the basis that it would save the county about $250,000 annually in commissioner salaries and benefits, said that the county “fully expected” the Court of Appeals ruling to come down the way it did because Kelly and Ronayne Krause were appointees of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat.
“As the county executive has said from the beginning, this will be settled in the Michigan Supreme Court,” Mullan said. “When the county filed in the Michigan Court of Appeals, we also filed at the Michigan Supreme Court at the same time. We anticipate that the Michigan Supreme Court will likely have a decision on this in the coming weeks.”
Houston added that, should an appeal to the state Supreme Court be filed, he expects the high court to “set aside politics and follow the spirit and letter of the law, precedent, and the state Constitution.”