Michigan State Government
THE MICHIGAN STATE CONSTITUTION
The Constitution of the State of Michigan, the governing document for the state, was adopted by voters on April 1, 1963, and became effective on January 1, 1964. The current constitution was adopted during a wave of state constitutional reform and revision that swept the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s. The constitution has been amended 27 times. As stipulated by the document, Michigan voters have access to initiative and popular referendum.
The current charter is the fourth in the history of the state. Other constitutions were adopted in 1835, 1850, and 1908. The 1963 constitution generated heated debate; large numbers of voters opposed it, but it ultimately passed by a narrow margin of fewer than 7,500 votes statewide. Michiganders will decide in 2010 whether to call another constitutional convention. They previously said no to that idea in 1978 and 1994.
The constitution mandates the creation of three separate and equal branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial.
Michigan voters fill only four executive offices: governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state (who oversees elections and handles many records), and attorney general (the chief legal officer of the state). All of these offices carry four-year terms with limits of two consecutive terms. To be eligible for the office of governor or lieutenant governor, a person must be at least 30 years old and have been a registered elector in the state for at least four years.
The governor is the state's chief executive. He or she serves as commander-in-chief of the state's military forces, holds pardoning powers, and is responsible for proposing a state budget. The 1963 convention significantly expanded the powers of the Michigan governorship, improving the office's administrative control and budgeting role. The governor has substantial authority to reorganize state government and appoint heads of many departments, boards, and commissions—hundreds of positions in all. The governor has the line item veto and can call the legislature into special session.
The governor runs jointly with the lieutenant governor. The lieutenant governor serves as president of the senate, with the right to cast a tie-breaking vote, but the office is largely ceremonial.
The lawmaking powers of the state of Michigan are vested in the Michigan Legislature, a bicameral body consisting of a Senate with 38 members and a House of Representatives with 110 members. Senators are elected to four-year terms, while representatives are elected to two-year terms. Term limits apply: a limit of two terms in a lifetime applies to the Senate, and a limit of three terms in a lifetime applies to the House.
Michigan legislators are virtually full-time lawmakers, with large staffs and pay that's substantial enough to allow them to devote more than 80 percent of their time to governance. In this regard, the Michigan legislature ranks with the legislatures of California, New York, and Pennsylvania. The Michigan legislature convenes annually. The first meeting is in January, and there is no designated limitation on session length. Michigan senate districts average more than 260,000 people and are among the largest in the country. House districts average about 90,000 people. A senator or representative must be a citizen of the U.S., at least 21 years old, and an elector of the relevant district.
Key positions of senate leadership are president pro tempore and majority leader. The president pro tempore is officially the top leadership job, but the majority leader is the de facto leader, the person with the most influence. In the House, the speakership is the essential leadership post. All of these jobs entail considerable sway in the movement of legislation and the assigning of committee memberships. Each chamber has about 20 standing committees. The lieutenant governor is president of the Senate with the right to break ties but few other formal responsibilities. The legislature appoints an auditor general for the state; this procedure contrasts with many states, where the officer is elected in a statewide vote.
Michigan state judges are chosen in nonpartisan elections. To serve on the supreme court, court of appeals, or circuit court, a person must be a qualified elector of the state (or of the relevant district or circuit), have at least five years experience in the practice of law, be licensed to practice law in the state, and be under 70 years old. Judicial nominating commissions are not used to screen judicial candidates in Michigan, but a committee on judicial qualifications assesses candidates for interim judicial vacancies. These assessments are then forwarded to the governor.
As noted, judicial elections are nonpartisan—candidates appear on general election ballots without party designation. Despite the lack of party designations and the officially nonpartisan nature of the elections, contests for Michigan judgeships can be highly contentious. In 2000, millions of dollars were spent by the candidates and their parties and highly controversial TV ads appeared. The 2000 election has generated calls for reforms.
The Supreme Court
The seven justices of the Michigan Supreme Court constitute the highest court in the state, hearing, at their discretion, cases appealed from other Michigan courts. Supreme court justices are elected to eight-year terms. The chief justice is chosen by her or his peers on the court to a two-year term. Supreme court candidates for open seats, or who are issuing a challenge to an incumbent, must be nominated at political party conventions or by a nominating petition; incumbents can simply file an affidavit of candidacy.
Court of Appeals
The Michigan Court of Appeals is an intermediate appellate court between the supreme court and trial courts. Final decisions from a circuit or probate court hearing may be appealed to the court of appeals. The court of appeals consists of 28 judges who are elected to six-year terms.
The 221 judges of the circuit courts have the broadest powers of any trial court judges in the state, handling large civil cases and all felony criminal cases, as well as appeals from other trial courts and administrative agencies. The circuit court has a family division that handles divorce and paternity cases, juvenile offenses, and other matters. Additionally, the circuit court in Ingham County has a court of claims that handles all cases filed against the state for monetary damages. Circuit court judges are elected to six-year terms.
Most people who come in contact with the Michigan court system appear in district court, which handles traffic violations, small civil cases, landlord–tenant matters, and all misdemeanors. The district court system includes a small claims court. Michigan has approximately 100 district courts and 250 district court judges. A few municipalities have chosen to retain a municipal court rather than have a district court.
District court judges are elected to six-year terms; candidates must be qualified electors in the relevant district, licensed to practice law in the state, have five years experience in the practice of law, and be under 70 years old. Municipal judges must be qualified electors of the relevant municipality, licensed to practice law in the state, and under 70 years old.
With about 100 judges elected to six-year terms, probate court handles estates, trusts, guardianships, protective orders and so on, as well as care and treatment for mentally ill and developmentally disabled persons. Candidates must be qualified electors in the relevant district, be licensed to practice law in the state, have five years experience in the practice of law, and be under 70 years old.
Michigan has 83 counties. These entities have an option for home rule, but very few have opted to move in that direction. The largest county with home rule is Wayne County, which includes the city of Detroit. All the state's counties have a number of elected officials, such as county commissioners and the sheriff, and make local decisions on roads and other matters. As indicated, those counties without home rule (the large majority) operate in a strict state framework.
Some home rule is vested in certain municipalities, especially cities and certain villages known as home-rule villages. In addition, the state has general-law villages, charter townships, and general-law townships. The tradition of home rule for municipalities is strong in Michigan, with significant deference from the state and courts to local traditions. However, even though this tradition is robust, the state imposes substantial legal limitations on the practice. The state also has a number of special districts that focus on delivery of specific government services.
Michigan State Flag
Michigan State Seal
|Author: World Trade Press|