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Michigan Supreme Court Switch Threatens Civil Rights

By Rudy Serra, JD
The RUDY Report

justicerelgay.gif - 5.05 K On December 22, 1998, The Michigan Supreme Court decided that the Michigan Civil Rights Act (a/k/a Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act) did not violate the religious liberty of a landlord who wanted the right to discriminate against "sinners."

The court said a law against discrimination based upon "marital status" protected unmarried couples from being denied housing on the grounds that they were "living in sin."

Tom Coleman of The American Association of Single People was the attorney who was instrumental in preparing amicus briefs and prevailing in the state Supreme Court.

Unfortunately, in NOVEMBER of 1998 there had been an election for Justices of the Supreme Court. Two of the very judges who tried to give religious bigots the right to impose their personal moral dogma in housing market got elected to the Supreme Court.

These extreme right-wing Republican Justices are now using their muscle to subvert precedent, to give religious bigots 'special rights' to discriminate in business.

On April 16, 1999 the new right-wing majority VACATED "that portion of the December 22, 1998 opinion which holds that the Civil Rights act does not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution or Article 1, Sec. 4 of the Michigan Constitution."

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Then, in a cowardly evasion of responsibility, the Republican Justices sent the case back to the Jackson County Circuit Court.

The court which originally held that cohabitation is a crime, therefore unmarried couples have no rights, now gets to decide just which dogma gets forced on the rest of us, and which does not.

The new right-wing majority wants to give fundamentalist landlords, employers and others "special rights" to discriminate.

If they profess a "sincerely held religious belief" that gay people are immoral sinners, they they should be able to fire, evict or otherwise "cleanse" their apartment complex, company or other business from "sinners."

If they sincerely believe that African-Americans are cursed by God, and are morally inferior to white people, they no longer have to rent to African Americans. If their dogma says that Jews are Godless sinners, they no longer have to rent to a Jewish family.

justicesmich.gif - 8.99 K Justice Marilyn Kelly and Justice Michael Cavanagh This remarkable reversal of decades of civil rights achievements was appropriately criticized by Justice Marilyn Kelly and Justice Michael Cavanagh.

Kelly quoted from an opinion by Justice Brickley in which he wrote that reversal or precedent should only occur where the precedent is outmoded or "in the rare case when it is clearly apparent that an error has been made."

Kelly noted that the four month old decision had not had time to become "outmoded" and the wrote that: "The requirements of the Civil Rights Act do not force defendants to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs...the burden merely affects their commercial decision to enter the real estate market and impose these beliefs on their potential customers.
Rudy Serra is an Attorney, a Social Worker, and a member of the Detroit Human Rights Commission. He is a former Oakland County Commissioner, a former Congressional Aide, and a former Staff Attorney for the Michigan Court of Appeals. Serra is a Board member of the Triangle Foundation, and a member of The Open Justice Commission of the State Bar of Michigan.

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