Regents Direct UM to File Amicus Brief

By a 5-3 vote, the University of Michigan board of regents directed UM administrators to prepare and file an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit filed by Michigan House Democrats against the GOP majority, indirectly related to recent legislation regarding graduate student research assistants (GSRAs). The regents’ vote was taken during a brief special meeting held on the afternoon of April 2, with all but one regent  participating via conference call. Julia Darlow was the lone regent who was physically present in the room. Dissenting were Republican regents Andrea Fischer Newman and Andrew Richner, and Democrat Libby Maynard.

By way of background, last month state House Democrats sued Republicans over the refusal by the GOP majority to hold recorded roll-call votes when super-majorities are required to pass a bill. The strategy results in bills taking effect immediately after being signed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, rather than becoming law 90 days after the end of a legislative session. Jeff Irwin, a Democrat from Ann Arbor’s District 53, is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

A hearing in the case took place earlier today at Ingham County Circuit Court, where judge Clinton Canady III ruled in favor of the Democrats and issued a stay on legislation that had taken immediate effect, including the GSRA legislation. That law made explicit that GSRAs are not entitled to collective bargaining rights under Michigan’s Act 336 of 1947.

Republicans are expected to appeal the ruling. The motion that was passed by a majority of regents directed UM administrators to file an amicus “friend of the court” brief in any appeal as well.

At the April 2 regents meeting, some of the same themes were voiced that had been raised at another special regents meeting on Feb. 21, when the board voted 6-2 formally to oppose Senate Bill 971 – the GSRA legislation that was subsequently enacted. Newman and Richner dissented in that vote too, with Newman questioning whether the meeting conformed to the state’s Open Meetings Act. At Monday’s meeting she again objected to the way in which the meeting was called, arguing that its topic should have been announced in advance and that the meeting should have provided opportunity for public input.

Richner questioned the appropriateness of the board directing UM administrators to take this kind of action, wondering whether it was setting a precedent. Both Richner and Newman said it was inappropriate to intervene in the legislature’s procedures and to get involved in a political spat. Denise Ilitch, who voted with the majority, called that view hypocritical, noting that Richner and Newman had testified at committee hearings in support of Senate Bill 971 the legislation.

Maynard did not disclose why she also opposed the motion at the April 2 meeting, but she said it was for very different reasons than those given by Richner and Newman. More coverage of the meeting: [link]