Judge Grants Preliminary Injunction in Lawsuit Challenging Primary Election Law

February 27, 2008

DETROIT – A federal judge today granted the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s petition for a preliminary injunction prohibiting the Secretary of State from distributing the party preference declarations solely to the two major political parties of the State until oral arguments on March 26, 2008 at 2 p.m.

The law, passed in August of 2007, makes it a misdemeanor for anyone other than the two major parties, including other political parties, journalists, academics or historians, to have access or use the lists. The lawsuit was filed last month on behalf of the Green Party of Michigan, Libertarian Party of Michigan, the Reform Party of Michigan, the Metro Times and Winning Strategies, a political consulting firm.

“We are encouraged by this order barring the Secretary of State from sharing this information until the court has had ample time to review the merits of the case,” said Thomas F. Wieder, ACLU of Michigan Cooperating Attorney. “It is our contention that the state cannot lawfully limit access to this information to the two major political parties while making it a crime for anyone else in the state to use or acquire this information.”

Michigan law does not require voters to register by party and therefore voter party preference information is valuable to political parties, individual candidates, citizen groups supporting or opposing ballot proposals, political consultants, news media, researchers, other specialized groups and members of the public. The law mandates that anyone other than the two parties who "uses" a "secret" record could be issued a 93-day, $1,000 misdemeanor.

The lawsuit charges that the new law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by providing the information to the two major political parties of the State while denying access to that information to everyone else. The lawsuit claims that “there is no compelling state interest that would justify providing this valuable party preference information solely to the two major political parties.”

In addition, the plaintiffs claim that the law violates the First Amendment and the Michigan Constitution by preventing the Metro Times and other news media from reporting and commenting upon matters of public interest that relate to voter party preference information.

The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court in Detroit to declare the law unconstitutional and permanently prohibit the Secretary of State from carrying out the provisions of the law.

The plaintiffs are represented by Wieder, Moss, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg and ACLU of Michigan Cooperating Attorney Stephen F. Wasinger.