The supreme law: Getting to know Michigan’s Constitution

CapCon series will equip Michigan residents with the knowledge to hold lawmakers and bureaucrats accountable

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated how lieutenant governor candidates are chosen.

It is crucial that Michiganders feel equipped to respond when government encroaches on their rights and freedoms. They should also be equipped to prevent crises. We should not go to the voting booth, perform our duty and then wash our hands. We should all take time to be engaged in what is happening, and we should do so with the proper knowledge.

Most people in the United States are aware of the document by which all laws and lawmakers must abide, the U.S. Constitution. But how many Michigan residents know that their state has its own constitution?

The easiest way for government officials to take encroach on the people’s liberties is to keep them ignorant of how government works and what the constitution requires. An uninformed society is less likely to effectively address the issues brought on or made worse by government misbehavior if it does not understand how the sausage is made. That is why Michigan Capitol Confidential will provide a series on the Michigan Constitution and the inner workings of government.

Unfortunately, government leaders have not always made the right decisions when it comes to its citizens’ freedoms. Examples include internment camps of U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II, laws establishing and protecting slavery, and prohibiting certain classes of people from voting. A more recent example is the Tuskegee Experiment, in which the U.S. Public Health Service told a group of Black men it was treating them for syphyllis and then did no such thing. By keeping the men ignorant of what it was doing, the government caused hundreds of men to live with extreme pain and contributed to their deaths.

Sometimes, government does not act with malice, but ineptitude. The result is still a detrimental impact on residents. We saw this with the Flint water crisis, which resulted in lead poisoning and unusable and undrinkable water for thousands of people.

Michigan has had four constitutions. The original one was approved in 1835, according to an official state constitutional history. Congress let Michigan, then a territory, enter the union as a state shortly thereafter. At the time, only white men 21 and older could vote.

In the years that followed, voters and lawmakers debated, rejected and approved many change to the constitution. They even replaced the constitution on three separate occasions.

The Michigan Constitution of 1963, the state’s most recent one, was approved by voters on April 1, 1963. They supported it by a 7,000-vote margin, with 810,860 in favor and 803,436 against.

Voters have amended that constitution more than 30 times since, according to Ballotpedia. The latest changes came last year, when voters approved three new amendments,

The structure of our governance has changed over time. Originally, some key positions were filled by the governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate. These included the attorney general, auditor general, secretary of state and members of the state Supreme Court. Only legislators, the governor and the lieutenant governor were elected by the people.

Currently, however, the attorney general and secretary of state are elected, as are members of the Michigan Supreme Court. Candidates for lieutenant governor are chosen at party conventions, and the auditor general is appointed by a majority vote of the Legislature.

The series on our government and the state Constitution will give you unique perspective from some of the brightest minds in Michigan law and public policy. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, read the Michigan Constitution for yourself. What do you notice? What’s of interest? Tell me at Your thoughts, your questions and your observations are all valuable.

Jamie A. Hope is assistant managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.