Court Rejects “Truthfulness” Requirement for Recall Petitions

Since the early 1900s, Michigan citizens have had the right to recall elected officials from office before the end of their natural terms. The first step in the process is to prepare a petition stating the reasons why the official’s conduct in office warrants recall. The petition must then be reviewed and approved by election officials before it can be circulated for signature.

In Hooker v Moore, the Court of Appeals decided an important issue regarding the standards for this review and approval process. The pertinent statute provides that the statements in a recall petition must be both “factual” and “of sufficient clarity” to put the elected official and the voters on notice of the nature of the allegations. The issue in Hooker was whether the “factuality” requirement means that the statements in a recall petition must be true, or whether they must simply be “stated as facts” rather than opinions.

In a surprising decision, the Court of Appeals adopted the latter interpretation. Under the Court’s reading, the Board of State Canvassers lacks jurisdiction to review the accuracy of the statements in a petition, and therefore cannot consider any evidence or testimony on that issue. This means that elected officials can potentially be subject to recall – and ultimately removed from office – based on false accusations.

Because this issue is crucially important to municipal officials, we are excited about the opportunity to represent Ms. Moore in pursuing a further appeal. We filed this application with the Michigan Supreme Court earlier this week and will provide updates as the case progresses.