Pre-Election Gag Order Not Enforceable Due to Agreement in Federal Court

essentialTOPtempPre-Election candlewickshoppeADblueGag Order Not Enforceable Due to Agreement in Federal Court

(Michigan Municipal League, April 28, 2016)

LANSING, MI — U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara has accepted an agreement between the Secretary of State’s office and local governments and school groups, permanently enjoining Secretary of State Ruth Johnson from enforcing a law passed in December that prevented local officials from providing factual information on local ballot proposals.

O’Meara’s order, entered today, references his previous temporary injunction against enforcement of the law, saying that the local governments had dinos02sidelogo3“demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that (the law) is unconstitutionally vague and thus void.”

The gag order was part of a larger campaign finance bill that passed the Legislature with little debate in the final days of last year’s legislative session and was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, becoming Public Act 269 of 2015.

Following O’Meara’s initial preliminary injunction, lawyers for the local governments, school districts, and the state negotiated an agreement that the Secretary of State’s office, charged with enforcing state election laws, would not enforce the gag law. O’Meara accepted that agreement in his order issued today.

“We thank Judge O’Meara for moving quickly on this important issue, and sideHeadLinesallowing our local government officials to provide vital facts for voters on ballot issues that come before them,” said Dan Gilmartin, Michigan Municipal League CEO and Executive Director. “Voters rely on local governments to let them know why a measure has been put on a ballot, what it does, and what, if any financial ramifications it may have to them as taxpayers. The Secretary of State’s office will still enforce existing laws that prevent electioneering by local officials, a practice that it has found is rare given the hundreds of local proposals voters decide on every year.”

“County commissioners and other local leaders will be pleased to know they can continue to inform their constituents about ballot issues in the same fashion that they have done for years,” said Matthew Bierlein, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and a Tuscola County commissioner. “Now that this dispute is behind POWELLad_01us, everyone can turn their attention back to cooperatively addressing Michigan’s challenges.”

Michigan Townships Association Executive Director Larry Merrill said, “This consent judgment will allow townships and all local governments to do their proper duty—without fear of prosecution—of ensuring voters have the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions regarding local ballot measures.  A well-informed citizenry is at the heart of democracy and voters deserve clear, factual information about the issues that impact their community. Any legislative attempts to muzzle local officials’ ability to provide impartial information to their voters does not serve the public interest.”

Don Wotruba, Executive Director for the Michigan Association of School Boards added, “Judge O’Meara’s ruling that the gag order provisions createdSaharaNEW02 in PA 269 are unenforceable, comes as a relief for our members. Voters deserved better than this law allowed and we are pleased to see that acknowledged by the Attorney General and the Courts. This will allow our members and school districts to share factual information on upcoming ballot initiatives with parents and the community without worrying about penalties from the state.”

Groups leading the fight to provide citizens with factual information on ballot issues included the Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan Townships Association, Michigan Association of School Boards, Michigan Association of School Administrators, Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators and Michigan Library Association.

The public officials listed as plaintiffs were: Roseville Mayor Robert Taylor; Algonac City Manager Douglas R. Alexander; Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons; Tuscola County Commissioner Matthew Bierlein; New Haven Community blumz07Schools Superintendent Todd R. Robinson; Riverview Community Schools School Board President Gary O’Brien and Superintendent Russell Pickell; Tecumseh School Board President Kimberly Amstutz-Wild and Superintendent Kelly M. Coffin; Waterford School District School Board President Robert Seeterlin and Superintendent Keith Wunderlich; Goodrich Area Schools Superintendent Michelle Imbrunone; Clinton Community Schools Superintendent David P. Pray; Byron Area Schools School Board President Amy Lawrence and Superintendent Patricia Murphy-Alderman; Warren Consolidated School District Superintendent Robert D. Livernois; Lansing School District Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul; and Stephen Purchase, a private citizen.

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and the State of Michigan were listed as defendants.

Robert Taylor et al v. Ruth Johnson and the State of Michigan was filed Jan. 26 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, based in Detroit.

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