ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE
Yesterday, the Michigan Court of Claims granted a motion for summary disposition in Michigan Open Carry, et al. v Michigan House of Representatives, et al., dismissing the case brought by Plaintiffs, firearm proliferation advocacy groups Michigan Open Carry and Great Lake Gun Rights. Plaintiffs alleged Open Meetings Act (OMA) violations by both state legislative chambers and subdivisions of each, but the Court dismissed every claim, announced Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. The Department of Attorney General represented the Legislature in the defense of the lawsuit.
“Michigan residents certainly have the right to attend, participate in, and express their opinions at open meetings, but that doesn’t translate to an absolute right to unlimited, in-person testimony,” said Nessel. “Such a standard would interfere with the legislature’s constitutional obligation to conduct orderly operations, and would also allow specific perspectives and interests to monopolize all deliberations on an issue.”
Plaintiffs filed their OMA lawsuit after they were not afforded time to speak at some public meetings of legislative committees. Michigan Open Carry had been afforded time to speak at other legislative meetings on the same topics, and at all meetings were afforded the opportunity to submit written comment. The pertinent legislative committee meetings concerned firearm safety legislation and were attended by many Michigan residents, limiting the time that could be allotted for individuals to speak at every meeting.
“The gun safety laws enacted this legislative session are proven measures, known to be effective in promoting public safety, and beyond that they are very popular with the public as Michiganders demand common sense action to save lives,” Nessel added. “Our Department is looking forward to having additional tools to combat gun violence across the state, and we’re grateful the legislature rose to the occasion on this vital issue.”
The Court ruled the Michigan Senate, the Michigan House of Representatives, the Senate Committee of the Whole, and the Senate Committee on Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public Safety did not violate the OMA. While the Court held that the House Judiciary Committee did violate the OMA, by limiting public comment without a rule in place authorizing the restriction, the Court dismissed all claims against the committee because an injunction was not warranted.
“As the ‘Majority for the People,’ my Senate Democratic colleagues and I value the input of all Michiganders and respect the rights of all sides to weigh in on our policy decisions,” said Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks. “This ruling by the Court of Claims rightfully acknowledges that we followed the letter of the law and provided ample opportunity for residents to share their perspective on this important legislation to protect Michiganders from gun violence.”
Regarding claims against the House and Senate as a whole, the Court found that while “the OMA applies to the houses of the Michigan Legislature,” it “confers no right upon members of the public to address either the House or the Senate during their respective regular sessions” because “[t]o conclude otherwise would require the OMA to be read in such a manner as to impede the orderly operations of general legislative sessions in violation of” the Michigan Constitution.
“As chair, I make a point to acknowledge testimony, both verbal and written, as part of the committee process and those submissions are reflected on the record,” said Representative Kelly Breen, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. “It is important that both sides of any issue can participate in that process. While the court dismissed this lawsuit, I take seriously their recommendation that the House adopt more formal policies around making clear the process for participation by residents and I will be working to adopt my own rules for the committee in the new year.”
As to whether the public has a right to orally address the committees, the court found that “the Legislature intended to allow the public’s right to address public bodies under the OMA to be satisfied through oral and written submissions,” and that while “oral submissions may be preferred by members of the public, the ability to present written submissions in lieu of oral submissions is a pragmatic alternative when public bodies have a duty to carry out their public duties under time constraints, and a large number of individuals are present at a public hearing and their desire to speak presents an obstacle to the public body fulfilling its duties.” And because the Senate Committee on Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public Safety specifically provided for reasonable and flexible rules setting forth the conditions under which members of the public could address the committee, it did not violate the OMA.