[JURIST] The Michigan Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that former governor Jennifer Granholm overstepped her constitutional bounds when she withdrew her commutation of man’s life prison sentence. Matthew Makowski was convicted of first-degree felony murder in 1989 for the stabbing of a 19-year-old man and was sentenced to life in prison. After 20 years, the state parole board recommended that the sentence be commuted, and Granholm followed the recommendation, signing the order on December 22, 2010. Two days later, the governor changed her mind after receiving a letter from one of the victim’s siblings strenuously objecting to the commutation. The court, in a 6-0 majority opinion, said this went beyond her constitutional abilities:
The language of the Constitution confers only the power to grant commutations. The fact that the Constitution specifically provides that the Governor may grant a commutation implies that the Governor’s power is limited only to that ability. To interpret the expressly provided power to “grant” to implicitly provide the power to “revoke” would not give the Constitution “the sense most obvious to the common understanding” because the meaning of the word “revoke” is the exact opposite of the word “grant.”
The decision means Makowski is now eligible for parole.
This is not the first time that Granholm has been involved in a dispute as to the constitutionality of her actions. In 2011 the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled unanimously [JURIST report] that a 3 percent cut to state workers’ pay to fund the retiree health care benefits violates the Michigan Constitution [text]. In the ruling [opinion, PDF], the court held that the legislature and former governor Jennifer Granholm lacked the authority to side-step the Civil Service Commission. The court stated “Specifically, an increase in the rate of compensation authorized by the commission may be rejected or reduced by the Legislature by a two-thirds vote of the members elected to and serving in each house. … The Civil Service Commission has the sole authority to fix rates of compensation.”