Editorial: New 'zombie laws' muddy right-to-work
Proposing laws that directly contradict U.S. Supreme Court rulings might be a feel-good exercise for Michigan lawmakers. But it risks creating an atmosphere of uncertainty for residents.
“Zombie laws” are commonly known as bills that are legally on Michigan’s books but are not enforceable either due to past court rulings that supersede them or because they’ve fallen out of relevance. The state’s now-null 1931 ban on abortion is an example.
Democrats in Michigan have been reiterating their desire to see the state’s legal code cleared up — and that is a worthy goal.
But that fervency for transparency and up-to-date laws only applies to issues that pander to their base, such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
They’re not applying that same fidelity to the law when it comes to new legislation that would contradict the U.S. Supreme Court's position on right-to-work.
Both chambers of the Democratic-controlled Legislature introduced bills this week to deny public sector workers protection from compulsory union membership and obligatory dues payments.
Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have signaled their intent to overturn Michigan's right-to-work law. But that would only apply to private sector workers because the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME ruled mandatory public sector union dues are unconstitutional.
Unions and Democrats know their legislation is unenforceable and already trumped by the court’s ruling. They're talking out of both sides of their mouths claiming to care about cleaning up the zombie laws — while actively creating new ones.
It’s an irresponsible approach to legislating likely to create a confusing legal landscape for public sector workers in Michigan.
Lawmakers are selling the meaningless law as a way to reflect the priorities of voters in Michigan.
"It’s important for us to think about the laws we want regardless of what the Supreme Court says is precedent because they’ve shown precedent doesn’t mean much anymore," said Sen. Darrin Camilleri, the Democrat from Trenton who sponsored the Senate bill.
Fortunately, the law doesn't work that way. Disapproval of Supreme Court rulings doesn't permit lawmakers to disregard the authority of the court. Pretending they can suggests a lack of seriousness by the lawmakers who are backing the right-to-work repeal.
And it works against the governor's stated priority.
“We’re looking at all sorts of old zombie laws and cleaning up the books so that we don’t ever see a 1931 law come back to life depending on what the United States Supreme Court does,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in December.
She also wants to tackle same-sex marriage zombie laws.
House Democratic Leader Rep. Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, said, too, that cleaning up zombie laws would be a priority for the new Legislature.
And that's a good idea. But it's nullified by adding new edicts that are unenforceable and run counter to settled law as determined by the Supreme Court.