Major Components of the Michigan State Constitution

Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

This lesson breaks down the articles of the Michigan State Constitution into easy-to-chew pieces. Learn fun facts and key issues from this nearly 40,000 word document, including topics of current debate and legacy items that give us a glimpse of the history.

Four Constitutions

Think about these dates: 1835, 1850, 1908, 1963. What do they have in common? If you guessed that each of these years saw a new Michigan State Constitution, you'd be right!

The first document in 1835 made it possible for Michigan to become a state, and the 1963 version has remained in effect since it was put in place with amendments to modify it as time went on. This lesson focuses on the articles of the current Michigan State Constitution.

Article I-II

Article I: Declaration of Rights - The Declaration of Rights at the Michigan state level has a lot in common with the national Bill of Rights. Think freedom of the press and the right to bear arms, plus 25 other categories of rights, including more recent concerns such as the topic of stem cell research.

Article II: Elections - Want to vote in Michigan? You must be at least 18 years of age and meet the residency requirements put forth by the legislature. This article also discusses where, when, and how elections will take place.

Did an elected official do something you find politically horrendous, and you want to propose a recall? You'll need a petition that includes 25% of the number of people who voted in the last election.

Articles III-VII

Article III: General Government - The articles of the Michigan Constitution then move on to details about the government itself, starting with some general provisions. For example, we're reminded of the location of the seat of the government (out-of-staters: remember the capital is Lansing, not Detroit). The state seal (the emblem, not the animal) is discussed as well.

The Michigan State Seal
The Michigan state seal

The constitution then focuses on the branches of the Michigan state government and local government in Articles IV-VII.

Article IV: Legislative Branch - Michigan laws are created through a state house of representatives and a state senate, made up of the following:

  • 38 senators with 4-year terms
  • 110 representatives with 2-year terms

Guess what? If you're a senator or representative in Michigan, you can't decide to move to sunny Miami. The Michigan Constitution says you must be an elector, a voter, in the district you represent. So, vacation to Miami = cool. Moving out of your district to live Miami = not cool.

Article V: Executive Branch - The Michigan Constitution explains how state's departments are structured and who appoints the heads of those departments (spoiler: most of the time, it's the governor). It also describes the governor's veto powers and the duties of the main other state officials. Fun fact: The governor serves as the commander-in-chief of the Michigan National Guard.

Article VI: Judicial Branch - Michigan's Supreme Court justices are elected, rather than appointed as they are at national level. Instead of serving for life, they may serve two 8-year terms. The Michigan Constitution specifies how the rest of the state court system is divided up into courts of appeals, circuit courts, and probate courts.

Article VII: Local Government - Beyond the three branches of government already described, the constitution also provides plenty of guidance on the rights and responsibilities of local government, such as the need to hold a public hearing when creating a government budget.

Articles VIII-XII

Article VIII: Education - A school district 'shall provide for the education of its pupils without discrimination as to religion, creed, race, color or national origin' and those with disabilities shall be supported as well. This article also references how transportation to and from school (i.e. school buses) will be provided by the legislature and how public universities are governed.

Article IX: Finance and Taxation - In this article, you'll find information ranging from limitations on the sales tax to the development and maintenance of forest recreation activities. A hot topic lurks here: Instead of a graduated tax, an income tax that increases if you make more money, as with federal tax, the state income tax rate is a flat percentage for everyone. If the public wishes to change this - and some do - they'll need to call for an amendment to that section.

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