MI Legislature Repeals Residency Law After Lawsuit

Sat, May 10 2014 by Paul Jacob

It all happened in a single day. Substitute language was stuffed into House Bill 5152 to effectively repeal Michigan’s requirement that those who circulate initiative and referendum petitions be residents of the state. Later that same day, HB-5152 passed the House and then the state Senate, too.

It’s now Public Act No. 94.

What possessed Michigan legislators to act so deliberately to rectify a law long at odds with the First amendment rights of citizens to petition their government?

The likely catalyst was a lawsuit challenging Michigan’s residency requirement for petition circulators filed in federal court by the ACLU on behalf of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, Citizens in Charge and other groups. In fact, a hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of Michigan’s now repealed law was less than two weeks away.

Legislators may have seen the judge’s handwriting on the wall, so to speak, and didn’t want taxpayers to incur further legal costs defending an unconstitutional law. Back in 2008, Michigan’s law banning non-residents from circulating recall petitions was overturned by the federal Sixth Circuit in the case Bogaert v. Land.

“Nowhere is the right to free speech more important than in the political process,” said Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan deputy legal director. “By setting arbitrary residency requirements, state officials needlessly interfere with the democratic process that allows citizens to spearhead policy change …”


House Bill 5152 - text


Michigan ACLU’s Press Release


HSLF v. Johnson – Complaint


HSLF v. Johnson – Order Dismissing case