At the November 2, 2010 general election, the voters of Michigan will decide whether to call a constitutional convention to revise the 1963 Michigan Constitution. The question appears on the ballot automatically every 16 years as required by the Constitution. The Constitution provides that a convention would convene in Lansing on October 4, 2011. If the question is rejected, it will automatically appear on the ballot again in the year 2026.
The 1963 Michigan Constitution has been amended 31 times since it went into effect in January 1964, nearly doubling its length and adding to its complexity. Much of the additional length has consisted of changes that could have been made statutorily or that simply elevated statutory provisions to constitutional status.
The modern era of constitutional amendment in Michigan began with the adoption of the initiative in 1913. The 1908 Constitution was amended 69 times in 126 attempts and, by the end of the 1950s, pressure developed to replace the old document with a new one.
The articles of the 1963 Constitution most proposed for amendment have been Article IV (the legislative article), and Article IX (the finance and taxation article). Others subject to frequent amendment have been Articles I (Declaration of Rights), V (Executive Branch), and VIII (Education). In all, there have been 35 amendments to articles out of 80 proposed changes. (Some of the 31 successful proposals amended more than one article.)
Early amendments centered on the powers and structure of government, particularly issues of judicial selection and tenure and the State Officers Compensation Commission.
The period from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s was dominated by issues arising from the so-called “Tax Revolt.” In that period, 15 proposed amendments that would shift, reduce, or limit the growth of taxes were placed before the voters. Of these, 13 were defeated, with only the Headlee Amendment (1978) and Proposal A (1994) being adopted, but they framed the debate on government’s claim on economic resources for two decades.
Recent years have seen the rise of amendments flowing from social agendas, such as prohibition of same-sex marriage; prohibition of certain affirmative action programs; and limitations on the expansion of gambling.
A review of the amendment history of the 1963 Michigan Constitution leads to several conclusions:
- Many of the amendments made changes that could have been accomplished by statute and have added significant length and complexity to the document;
- Addition of provisions of a statutory nature can result in “snowballing” of amendments because it becomes necessary to amend the Constitution in order to change detailed language;
- A common theme of amendments, especially since 1992, has been that of weakening the legislature.