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 Citizens Research Council of Michigan takes no position on the question of calling a constitutional convention. It is hoped that examination of the matters identified in this paper will promote discussion of vital constitutional issues and assist citizens in deliberations on the question of calling a constitutional convention.
State government powers are expansive and shared among three branches of government: legislative, executive, and judicial. Judicial power resides with the courts. In Michigan, the judicial system is composed of a Supreme Court, a statewide court of appeals, county or multi-county circuit and probate courts, and county or municipal district courts. The 1963 Constitution created “one court of justice,” meaning that all courts are organized under the Supreme Court and operate under rules and procedures created by the Supreme Court. It is likely that a constitutional convention, should one be convened, would focus on the operations of the judicial system within that framework, including: court organization, the role of the county clerk in circuit courts, the selection of justices and judges, court rulemaking, the funding of trial courts, and continuance of the Judicial Tenure Commission.
Within the context of the separation of powers doctrine that characterizes Michigan’s state government, judicial power consists in general of the authority exercised by courts to interpret the law. The exercise of that authority generally is limited to specific cases and controversies brought before the courts for resolution by public and private parties and may involve significant questions of public policy or merely pedestrian questions that are of importance only to the parties of the case.
Courts derive their powers from the Constitution and laws by which they are established. Article VI, Section 1 declares the judicial power of the state
… is vested exclusively in one court of justice which shall be divided into one supreme court, one court of appeals, one trial court of general jurisdiction known as the circuit court, one probate court, and courts of limited jurisdiction that the legislature may establish by a two-thirds vote of the members elected to and serving in each house.
Article VI has been amended three times by means of legislative proposals. In 1968, the people adopted two separate constitutional amendments to 1) establish the Judicial Tenure Commission and 2) define the manner of filling judicial vacancies. In 1996, the Constitution was amended to establish qualifications for judicial offices.