CURTIS FINCH: Let’s be careful with Michigan’s Constitution
By Curtis Finch
As I have written previously, this November ballot will host a near-record number of proposals. For me, it’s not about the proposals, for or against; it’s about Michigan’s Constitution. The constitution should be a sacred document that we rarely mess with as a people. On the second Monday of May 1835, a group of “convention delegates” assembled in Detroit to sign a document that would establish the premise to guide a territory soon to be called Michigan. This authority was being granted from an established congressional article on self-governance established on Jan. 11, 1805. The signing also was supported from previous supporting ordinances passed on July 13, 1787, which allowed Michigan to “join the union” – the area “Northwest of the Ohio River.” Where is this info? It’s in the preamble of the Michigan Constitution.
When I hear those “old” dates, it makes me think of our history as a state. Since the early “first visit” by Frenchmen in 1620 to our native population, to the first European settlement in Sault Ste. Marie in 1668, to the many battles between the French and British over who was going to call this territory theirs, many lives would be lost. Many wars (Pontiac, French and Indian, 1812 and the American Revolution) would be fought over the eventual principles behind the Michigan Constitution. Whether you’ve been in Michigan for five, 20 or 100 years, that doesn’t change the fact that Michigan is an “old” state. We weren’t in the first group of folks to sign up with the “United States” of America, but we were pretty close. The Michigan Constitution has a lot of history behind it.
Why are these “old dates” so important? It implies that Michigan goes almost all of the way back to the very foundation of our nation; the constitution of Michigan was one of those first documents assisting in the spread west of principles that would eventually be called the United States of America. The Michigan constitution was written to grant freedoms to its people and helped form the governmental process that would provide checks and balances, resembling the philosophy of the United States Constitution in principle. One of the most important checks and balances was the three branches of government: legislative, judicial and executive. When these branches do their jobs, they keep each other in balance.
The proposals on the November ballot to change the Michigan Constitution may have merits either way, but do they belong in our sacred document of 1835? I’m not sure. In my opinion, there isn’t a proposal that can’t be taken care of via the branches of government already established. When outside and inside groups are spending tens-of-millions-of-dollars to get an addition to the constitution, I get nervous; taking things back out of the Michigan Constitution is going to be three times as hard as getting them in. We shouldn’t use the constitution for a lab experiment. Ask yourself this question before you vote one way or the other: “Does this proposal belong in the Michigan Constitution or can it be accomplished another way?” Our constitution has been around for more than 175 years; let’s be careful with it.
Dr. Finch can be reached at email@example.com and Twitter at CFinchMOISD.