Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Right court decision

Michigan's Supreme Court was properly skewered a few years ago in a study that rated it the most partisan state high court in the country.

On virtually any case on which the major political parties disagree, the four Republican justices vote as a bloc, as do the three Democrats. When the balance of power has shifted, justices have almost gleefully overturned precedents set only a few years earlier.

Fortunately, Justice Mary Beth Kelly, a Republican elected to the court two years ago, rose above partisanship recently and cast the crucial vote to put a proposal on the statewide ballot in November that would repeal the state's tough emergency-manager law.

Repeal advocates had met the legal test of collecting the necessary number of petition signatures. But opponents wanted the proposal kept off the ballot because they said the type on the petitions wasn't quite the proper size.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder wanted to kill the repeal effort, because he sees the emergency manager law as essential to dealing with financially troubled local governments and school districts. Democrats hate the law, because it allows managers to void union contracts.

While other justices divided according to partisan loyalties, Justice Kelly did a lot of research, and struggled with the question of how a law passed in an era when type was set in lead should apply today, when everything is computerized. She concluded that the type on the petitions met the legal standard.

Her decision was correct. Had the court refused to put the measure on the ballot, justices would have essentially denied the democratic process.

That doesn't mean the emergency manager law should be repealed. It is probably an essential tool, and there are many reasons to hope voters will say no. The state will be hamstrung until after the November election, since the law is now suspended pending the vote.

But citizens in a democracy have to live with results they don't always like. For her statesmanlike decision, Justice Kelly deserves praise.

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