Michigan Capitol Confidential has begun The Michigan Constitution Project.
This year we will educate our readers on our state constitution, with the understanding that it has more depth than just the words on the page. Over time, a citizenry ignorant of the law and unwilling to hold bureaucrats accountable will lose its freedom. Let’s remain free.
Throughout the course of this series, readers will learn about:
Patrick Wright is vice president of legal affairs at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and one of the foremost legal minds on the Michigan Constitution. Wright will lend his expertise to better equip residents in holding the government, tasked with serving them, accountable.
Wright joined the Mackinac Center in June 2005. He previously served as a Michigan Supreme Court commissioner for three years. Wright also spent four years working on litigation and appellate advocacy as an assistant attorney general for Michigan state government. He also was a law clerk to U.S. District Judge H. Russell Holland, who serves in Alaska.
Wright earned a law degree in 1994 from George Washington University, where he graduated with honors. He has been published in numerous state and national media outlets and has appeared on state and national television and radio.
In representing the Mackinac Center and Michigan residents before courts, he has filed dozens of amicus briefs, including over a dozen with the United States Supreme Court. One of his briefs was cited in its 2018 decision Janus v. AFSCME. In his role at the Mackinac Center, Wright was involved in the following cases before the Michigan Supreme Court:
The case In re Rovas, 482 Mich 90 (2008), limited the power of state agencies to determine what the law says. The court held that under the separation of powers principle in Michigan’s constitution, Michigan courts will not defer to state agency interpretations of statutes, but will instead give those interpretations “respectful consideration.” In making this ruling, the state rejected an idea known in the federal judiciary as the Chevron doctrine. Under Chevron courts defer to agencies when questions of interpreting certain regulations arise.
In UAW v. Green, 498 Mich 282 (2015), the court ruled that the Michigan Civil Service Commission did not have the authority to force state employees to pay agency fees. It based the ruling on Article 11, Section 5 of the Michigan Constitution. This decision became less important a few years later. Under the 2018 Janus ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, the First Amendment prohibits governments from requiring their employees to pay agency fees.
In both Rovas (interpretation of regulations) and Green (agency fees), the state’s high court accepted the reasoning the Mackinac Center presented in its amicus brief.
The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation worked with the Miller Johnson law firm to file the case In re Certified Questions, 506 Mich 332 (2020). The case involved Gov. Grethen Whitmer’s executive orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Michigan Supreme Court held that the separation of powers principle in the state constitution did not allow Whitmer to assume legislative power (sometimes called the police power) indefinitely.
Sole v. Michigan Economic Development Corp, 509 Mich 406 (2022), involved state subsidies to corporations. The court asked the Mackinac Center to file an amicus brief on the statutory question of whether the MEDC had to disclose the full amount it had promised to General Motors.
The Mackinac Center’s brief pointed to Article 9, Section 23 of the Michigan Constitution, and the need to make all the state’s financial records available to the public. This led the court to interpret the statute to require disclosure of the full subsidy amount.
After this decision, GM admitted it received $3.8 billion in subsidies.
Informed and engaged citizens are paramount in protecting our freedoms and maintaining the proper role of government. Imagine if the Founding Fathers were ignorant of the ways that King George III unfairly applied the rule of law to colonists and ignored their right to representation. We may still belong to another country, or be divided among several.
The blood of our forefathers was spilled to protect our sovereignty. The least we can do is actively participate in our constitutional republic.
Jamie A. Hope is assistant managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Permission to reprint this blog post in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author (or authors) and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy are properly cited. Permission to reprint any comments below is granted only for those comments written by Mackinac Center policy staff.
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The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a nonprofit research and educational institute that advances the principles of free markets and limited government. Through our research and education programs, we challenge government overreach and advocate for a free-market approach to public policy that frees people to realize their potential and dreams.
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