The Michigan Court of Claims granted injunctive relief Tuesday to gun rights groups challenging a prohibition on the open carry of firearms at polling places on Election Day.
On October 16, Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, acting in her capacity as the chief electoral officer, issued the directive prohibiting open carry of firearms “within 100 feet of any polling place, clerk’s office, or absent voter counting board.” Thomas Lambert, Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners, Inc., Michigan Open Carry Inc. and Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners, Inc. challenged the lawfulness of the directive as a “rule” under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) that must be promulgated through proper procedure.
The judge emphasized that “this case is not about whether it is a good idea to openly carry a firearm at a polling station, or whether the Second Amendment to the US Constitution prevents” open carry of firearms at polling places. Instead, the case is about the factors governing the issuance of preliminary injunctions and the APA.
The court found that the plaintiffs established that it is likely that the directive would require promulgation under the APA because it “has the force and effect of the law.” The directive is framed as a prohibition, suggesting that it will be enforced by law enforcement, and appears to be in conflict with existing state laws regarding firearm possession. Finding it likely that the directive was an unlawful rule, the judge concluded that plaintiffs would, therefore, be irreparably harmed. When balancing the harms caused to both parties by the injunction and the public interest factor, the judge relied on similar logic; because the rule is unlawful it harms public interest in maintaining the rule of law. The decision states:
Entry of an injunction would also cause little harm to the public interest put forth by defendant, that being the right of voters to be free from intimidation or harassment from those carrying a firearm…as state laws…already provide law enforcement with the tools to stop those whose goal it would be to intimidate voters, whether with or without a firearm.
The ruling maintains the status quo, not allowing open carry where it was previously prohibited (e.g. schools).
In a statement released shortly after the decision, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said, “We intend to immediately appeal the judge’s decision as this issue is of significant public interest and importance to our election process.” The opinion acknowledges the shortened time frame for review of this decision, but states that “there is some (though certainly not a lot) time to obtain appellate review of this decision.”