LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — The Michigan Court of Claims on Thursday dismissed a case brought by two firearm advocacy groups who allege Open Meetings Act violations by the Michigan Senate and House of Representatives.
Plaintiffs Michigan Open Carry, Inc. and Great Lakes Gun Rights sued the legislature claiming multiple meetings about pending gun legislation did not comply with the OMA requirements to allow a citizen to address the public body.
While Judge James Redford found the majority of OMA violations alleged from the Senate did not violate OMA, he did find the House Committee on the Judiciary violated the law by failing to have rules in place about addressing hearings in public meetings.
“The parties have provided no evidence that the House Committee on Judiciary has adopted rules similar to those adopted by the Senate committee,” the Court said in the ruling. “The Standing Rules of the House clearly address the public’s right to attend committee hearings and meetings, but are silent about the public’s right to address House committees. Neither the House in its Standing Rules nor the Committee on Judiciary have established and recorded a rule that expressly states that verbal testimony may be limited at the discretion of a committee chair, as the Senate has expressly done.”
Despite that finding, Redford ruled there was no need for a court order to compel the committee to comply with the Open Meetings Act.
“The Court leaves to the wisdom of the legislative branch the rules to be enacted to bring the House into compliance with the OMA,” he concluded.
In relation to claims against the Senate and various committees, Redford found there was not evidence of OMA violations.
“The documentation provided by the parties and the recordings of the four committee hearings support a conclusion that not everyone who wished to address the public body was able to do so in large part because of certain inefficiencies in the conducting of the hearings, including the late start of several of the committee meetings and the chair’s failure to set reasonable restrictions on the length of testimony.”
The Michigan Department of Attorney General represented the state legislature in the defense. “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,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement Friday.
Tom Lambert of Michigan Open Carry said in a press release Friday that the judge’s statement on the judiciary committee’s actions reinforced the complaints of the firearm advocates.
“Judge Redford confirmed what we already knew: the Michigan House violated state law when it prevented pro-gun organizations and constituents from testifying in numerous gun control committee hearings earlier this year,” Lambert said.
Here’s the complete statement from Great Lakes Gun Rights:
Michigan House Violated Open Meetings Act On Gun Control Bills
Michigan House Committee violated Open Meetings Act by restricting pro-gun voices in committee hearings
November 17, 2023
Lansing, MI- Today, Michigan Court of Claims Judge James Redford released an Opinion and Order in the case of Michigan Open Carry, Inc., and Great Lakes Gun Rights, v. Michigan House of Representatives, and Michigan Senate.
“Judge Redford confirmed what we already knew: The Michigan House violated state law when it prevented pro-gun organizations and constituents from testifying in numerous gun control committee hearings earlier this year,” said Tom Lambert of Michigan Open Carry.
While he declined to issue an injunction, Judge Redford stated in his opinion that “the Court concludes that the House committee acted in violation of the OMA” and that while he saw no need for an injunction as there was no reason to believe the House would continue violating the OMA, “The Court leaves to the wisdom of the legislative branch the rules to be enacted to bring the House into compliance with the OMA.”
“The Legislature’s knee-jerk and illegal actions show that they know what we know: The truth does not support their agenda, which is why they had to prevent it from coming out,” said Brenden Boudreau of Great Lakes Gun Rights.
Lambert concluded, “While the Court declined to issue an injunction to prevent further illegal acts under a belief the Legislature will comply in the future, MOC and GLGR will continue fighting to defend the rights of all law-abiding gun owners, including by making sure that legislators follow the law too. For if they can’t, why should they expect anyone else?”— Press Release from Great Lakes Gun Rights on ruling Michigan Open Carry, Inc,; Great Lakes Gun Rights v Michigan House of Representatives and Michigan Senate. Nov. 17, 2023
And here is the full press statement from the Office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 17, 2023
Court Dismisses Case Against Michigan Legislature Alleging Open Meetings Act Violations
Michigan Open Carry, et al. v Michigan House of Representatives, et al. dismissed as to all counts— Press release from Attorney General Dana Nessel on court ruling in Open Meetings Act lawsuit against both chambers of the Michigan Legislature. November 17, 2023.
LANSING – 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. ###