WARREN, Mich. – The Michigan Supreme Court has upheld a decision that bars current Warren Mayor Jim Fouts from running for a fifth term in office this year due to recently-implemented term limits.
In 2020, Warren voters approved a charter amendment that establishes term limits for the city mayor: three 4-year terms, or 12 years total. The amendment, which passed with a 68% majority in 2020, took effect during the beginning of Fouts’ fourth term as mayor.
Fouts has argued that the new term limits should not apply to his terms in office before that amendment was approved. The council sued Fouts after he made known his intention of running again, despite the term limits in place. The city’s election commission approved Fouts to run, and a Macomb County Circuit Court judge ruled in March that Fouts could run this year.
But that decision was appealed and the lawsuit has since moved through the court system. High courts have disagreed with Fouts and the city’s election commission.
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled last month that Fouts cannot run for office again in 2023, since he has already served 15 years as the city mayor. The Warren city commissioner, election commission, and city clerk appealed the appellate court’s April decision to the Michigan Supreme Court, but that appeal was denied.
In its May 17 order, the state Supreme Court said, in part: “we are not persuaded that the question presented should be reviewed by this Court.” The lawsuit, known as Warren City Council v. Sonja Buffa, was not argued in front of the high court -- the court instead immediately considered the case and made a swift decision, given the approaching election.
Fouts called the Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling a “profound disappointment” during a news briefing Thursday. The mayor was critical of both the high court and the appellate court, saying the Court of Appeals “doesn’t care about the law.”
The lawsuit filed by the Warren City Council is one of many between the council and Fouts, whose relationship has been fraught with friction for years. Fouts said Thursday that the council has sued him and the city on 10 separate occasions.
“By far, this is a council from hell,” Fouts said. “It has sued me and made life difficult for my department heads for four years.”
The mayor said Thursday that he has a “First Amendment right to run” for office, and argued that the case should be considered at the federal level. He argues that his federal constitutional rights “should supersede” the council’s enforcement of the charter amendment that passed in 2020, calling the language vague and unclear. But the Court of Appeals said last month that the language in the amendment was not ambiguous.
The appellate court also cleared up the “retroactive vs. prospective” issue at hand in April, saying the charter amendment is in effect for the 2023 election, which would bar Fouts from being able to run.
“... the (city) Council here seeks only prospective application of the amendment. It did not retroactively seek to disrupt Mayor Fouts’ fourth term in office after the 2019 election once the amendment passed in 2020. Rather, the Council now seeks a declaration that Mayor Fouts is subject to the version of the charter in effect in 2023, on the basis of term limits amendment passed in 2020, for the election that will occur later this year,” Friday’s decision reads. “Prospectively, the terms served before the amendment’s passage will be counted. Thus, the amendment need not be applied retrospectively to afford the Council relief.”
Read the rulings here
You can read the Michigan Supreme Court’s May 17 order below.
You can read the Michigan Court of Appeals’ April 21 order below.