A U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel threw out Tuesday a specific set of stipulations imposed by a federal district judge for easing hurdles candidates face for making the ballot in Michigan amid Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order.

In a 2-1 ruling, the appeals court said the state needs to create specific methods to properly ease the burden on candidates this year and Detroit Federal Judge Terrence Berg overstepped his authority in setting a certain signature threshold and specific extended deadline.

“Simply put, federal courts have no authority to dictate to the states precisely how they should conduct their elections,” the majority opinion said. “This is the states’ constitutionally protected right.”

The case resulted from a lawsuit against state officials by Republican U.S. House candidate Eric Esshaki of Birmingham, who’s running in the 11th District, where Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, is the incumbent.

Esshaki had argued that the state’s requirement that he collect 1,000 petition signatures from registered voters by April 21 during restrictions on public outings to combat COVID-19 violated his constitutional rights.

Berg ruled April 20 that candidates who were collecting signatures to qualify for the primary ballot could instead submit 50% of the required number of signatures by 5 p.m. May 8.

Berg, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, also ordered Michigan Director of Elections Jonathan Brater to develop rules within 72 hours to collect and submit ballot petition signatures electronically. 

The state took the matter to the U.S. Court of Appeals, which issued its decision Tuesday. The appeals court agreed with Berg that the restrictions and ballot requirements combined to violate candidates’ rights.

But the court said it’s up to the state “to select its own adjustments so as to reduce the burden on ballot access, narrow the restrictions to align with its interest, and thereby render the application of the ballot access provisions constitutional under the circumstances.”

The requirements issued by Berg could serve as “some guidance,” the court wrote.

Judges Alice Moore Batchelder, a nominee of former President George H.W. Bush, and John K. Bush, a nominee of President Donald Trump, backed the majority opinion.

Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch, an Obama nominee, wrote her own opinion disagreeing with the majority in part. The court’s action is “needlessly confusing and may well trigger candidates who otherwise could have demonstrated a modicum of support to be left off the August ballot,” Stranch wrote.

Esshaki called the court’s ruling a win in a press release Tuesday.

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed


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