Soon after the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature rammed a “right to work” law through both houses in one day late last year, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued to get the law thrown out, claiming its passage broke the state open-meetings law.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a right-to-work supporter, argued that the suit should be dismissed. He said the plaintiffs — the ACLU and three Democratic lawmakers — lacked standing to sue.
A judge in Lansing showed little patience with that argument, and ruled last week that the suit can proceed. That doesn’t mean courts are likely to kill the right-to-work law, but it does suggest they will scrutinize it more closely than the other branches of state government did.
The plaintiffs argue that police closed the Capitol to demonstrators during what passed for debate on the law. They say GOP lawmakers packed legislative galleries so that few opponents could get in.
The judge indicated that right-to-work opponents have an uphill battle to make their case. Even if they persuade him that the law should be nullified, it is likely to end up in the Michigan Supreme Court, which Republicans also control.
But if lawmakers didn’t violate the letter of the open-meetings act, they violated its spirit by shoving this highly controversial law through a lame-duck session without a committee hearing or anything that could pass for a real debate.
Nor did Republican Gov. Rick Snyder cover himself with glory. After insisting that right-to-work was “not on my agenda,” he reversed course with lightning speed, and endorsed and signed the bill.
He may have forgotten the existence of still another court: the court of public opinion. Every opinion poll since the law passed has shown the governor’s approval rating significantly falling.
Right-to-work opponents may ultimately lose this battle. But the longer they can keep the issue before voters, the harder time some politicians may have at the polls next year.