A three-person U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel on Tuesday, May 5, threw out stipulations imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Terrence G. Berg which eased hurdles congressional candidates faced in making the ballot deadline of April 21 during Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order, ruling that Berg had overstepped his authority by setting a candidate filing signature threshold and a new extended deadline of May 8.
In their ruling, the majority opinion stated, “Simply put, federal courts have no authority to dictate to the states precisely how they should conduct their elections. This is the states' constitutionally protected right.”
Berg had ruled Monday, April 20, on a federal lawsuit filed by Birmingham resident Eric Esshaki, a Republican candidate for the 11th Congressional District, that candidates who were collecting signatures to qualify for the August primary ballot could submit 50 percent of the required number of signatures by 5 p.m. Friday, May 8, rather than by 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 21.
Berg also directed the Secretary of State's office to develop rules to collect and submit ballot petition signatures electronically within the next 72 hours. In his ruling, Berg stated, the filing deadline “would cause injury to the First Amendment rights of an innumerable number of Michigan voters.”
The state appealed.
While the appeals court wrote that it determined the district court interpreted the strict enforcement of the ballot-access provisions and the stay-at-home orders imposed a severe burden on the plaintiff's ballot access, and viewed that as unconstitutional, “but the district court went further…” noting “the Constitution grants the States broad power to prescribe the 'Times, Places and Manners of Holding Elections for Senators and Representatives… This is the States' constitutionally protected right.”
Esshaki had filed a federal lawsuit against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary State Jocelyn Benson and state Elections Director Jonathon Brater, alleging the state's stay-at-home order is preventing him from collecting the necessary valid signatures by the April 21 deadline to appear on the August primary. Despite his lawsuit, Esshaki managed to submit the required number of signatures to qualify for the August primary by the original state-imposed deadline.