High Court Gets Big Casino Case

February 20, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Michigan Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments surrounding a casino controversy next month.

The state's highest court has set Thursday, March 11, as the date it will hear why Taxpayers of Michigan Against Casinos (TOMAC) feels that four gambling houses owned by Indian tribes shouldn't be allowed to open in the state.

Joining the taxpayers group in the anti-casino complaint is the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema and Sen. Shirley Johnson also have lodged a complaint.

TOMAC will argue that four gaming compacts approved by Lansing lawmakers over five years ago violate the state constitution because the measure passed without the full consent of the Legislature. The compacts were ratified on the last day of the 1998 legislative session and not all lawmakers were present for that vote. Then-Gov. John Engler refused to sign it.

Although the Wayland Township casino proposed by the Gun Lake Band of Potawatomi Indians isn't named in the TOMAC suit, the chamber is arguing the tribe got its compact in an unconstitutional manner, too. The business group said that only members of the House approved the compact and only by resolution, which is not the normal legislative process.

The chamber feels the process used to approve the Gun Lake compact violates Article 4, Section 22 of the state constitution, which calls for legislation to be done through bills and both houses. The chamber joined the lawsuit in October after claiming a casino in Wayland would draw a healthy amount of revenue from member businesses.

"In the TOMAC case, it was a joint resolution that passed both chambers by a majority plus one of those present. The Grand Rapids Chamber filed its amicus brief bringing to light that, with the Wayland casino, a single chamber resolution was used," said Mark Lemoine, chamber vice president of public policy and government affairs.

"So, it's truly a weakening of the legislative process, which calls into question the constitutionality of it, which is what the Michigan Supreme Court is going to be deciding," he added.

The brief from Sikkema, a Grandville Republican, and Johnson, R-Royal Oak, takes issue with action taken by Gov. Jennifer Granholm last summer.

In July, the governor amended the 1998 compact and gave the Odawa tribe a second casino. Granholm also required the tribe to pay the state a higher return on net winnings for the second gaming house than tribes are obliged to pay under state law.

The Odawa band is one of the four tribes TOMAC has named in its suit.

Sikkema argues that Granholm acted as a member of the legislative branch when she amended the compact and violated Article 3 Section 2 of the constitution, which separates powers and prohibits a person in one branch from acting as someone in another branch.

Sikkema also claims that Granholm has no right to redirect revenue without approval from lawmakers. He argues that action violates Article 9 Section 17 of the constitution and state law MCLA 18.1441. Sikkema joined the suit in November.

Local law firms will be involved in the oral arguments. Rhoades McKee is representing the chamber, while Warner, Norcross & Judd is doing the same for TOMAC. Michael O'Brien of Lansing represents Sikkema and Johnson.

TOMAC and Laura Bird, a former state representative, filed suit against the compacts in Ingham County Circuit Court in 1999. The court ruled for the plaintiffs, saying the law was invalid because the compacts were passed by a simple majority of lawmakers present and should have been voted on by all lawmakers.

But the Michigan Court of Appeals overruled the decision and reversed the circuit court's ruling. The appellate justices said the state has no authority to regulate Indian tribal land.

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