Guest Essayist: The Honorable Michael Warren


Executive Branch

The executive power of the United States is vested in the president who is elected pursuant to the electoral college.41 The electors of each state are chosen by a method of selection determined by the state legislature. Each elector has two votes, one each for president and vice president (who run as a slate).42 The president and vice president each serve four-year terms, and are limited to two full terms.43 The vice president also serves as the president of the Senate, and has no vote unless there is a tie.44 No other federal executive offices are addressed in the U.S. Constitution. To be president, a person must be a natural-born citizen, at least 35 years old, and have been a resident in the United States for at least 14 years.45 The president is, among other things, the commander in chief of the armed forces.46 He or she has the power to grant reprieves and pardons (except for cases of impeachment), make treaties (subject to a two-thirds approval of the Senate), and appoint federal judges (subject to the advice and consent of the Senate).47 He or she has the duty to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed.48

The executive power of the State of Michigan is vested in the governor.49 The governor and lieutenant governor serve four-year terms, with a maximum of two terms.50 The governor is elected in the general election of alternate even-numbered years.51 Candidates for lieutenant governor are nominated by party conventions.52 “In the general election one vote shall be cast jointly for the candidates of governor and lieutenant governor nominated by the same party.”53 The governor supervises each “principal department … unless otherwise provided by” the Constitution.54 The governor is also to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”55 Furthermore, the Michigan Constitution has a negative advice and consent clause – any gubernatorial appointments take effect unless a majority of the state Senate votes to disapprove the appointment.56 The governor has the authority to remove or suspend “any elective or appointive state officer, except legislative or judicial,” for “gross negligence of duty or for corrupt conduct in office, or for any other misfeasance or malfeasance therein …  .”57 Like the president, the governor is the commander in chief of the armed forces.58 He or she also has the authority to grant “reprieves, commutations and pardons for all offenses, except in cases of impeachment,” but that power is subject to the procedures and regulations provided by law.59 The governor has the duty to submit to the Legislature a balanced budget and appropriation bills.60 Like the vice president, the lieutenant governor is president of the Senate, without a vote except in cases of a tie.61 To be governor or lieutenant governor, a person must be 30 years old and have been a voter in the state for the four years “next preceding his election.”62 The attorney general and secretary of state are likewise elected for four-year terms at the same time as the governor, with a maximum of two terms.63 Like the lieutenant governor, the attorney general and secretary of state are nominated at state party conventions.64

Unlike the U.S. Constitution, the Michigan Constitution addresses in detail the administrative state over which the governor presides. For example, there are no more than “20 principal departments. They shall be grouped as far as practicable according to major purposes.”65 In addition, unless legislatively vetoed, the governor has plenary authority to reorganize the executive branch via executive order.66

The Michigan Constitution also establishes a statewide elected state board of education;67 elected statewide boards for the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, and Michigan State University;68 an appointed civil rights commission;69 an appointed state transportation commission;70 a Michigan nongame fish and wildlife trust fund;71 a Michigan game and fish protection fund;72 a Michigan conservation and recreation legacy fund;73 a Michigan veterans trust fund;74 and a Michigan natural resources trust fund.75

Judicial Branch

The judicial power of the United States is vested in “one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”76 All federal judges have life terms, subject to being in “good Behavior.”77 The jurisdiction of the federal courts includes all cases arising under the U.S. Constitution, federal law, treaties, foreign relations, admiralty and maritime, and controversies between the states.78

In Michigan the “judicial power of the state is vested exclusively in one court of justice which shall be divided into one supreme court, one court of appeals, one trial court of general jurisdiction known as the circuit court, one probate court, and courts of limited jurisdiction that the legislature may establish by two-thirds vote of the members elected to and serving in each house.”79 The Supreme Court has seven members, serving eight-year terms with staggered elections.80 The Supreme Court is nonpartisan, and “Nominations for justices of the supreme court shall be in a manner prescribed by law.”81 However, an incumbent may be placed on the ballot simply by filing an affidavit of candidacy.82 The Supreme Court chooses its own chief justice, and he or she “shall perform duties required by the court.”83 The Supreme Court must appoint “an administrator of the courts and other assistants of the supreme court as may be necessary to aid in the administration of the courts of this state.”84 The Supreme Court possesses “general superintending control over all courts … and appellate jurisdiction as provided by rules of the supreme court,”85 and rulemaking authority over the “practice and procedure in all courts of this state.”86 Although the Supreme Court “shall not have the power to remove a judge,”87 it may do so pursuant to judicial tenure proceedings.88 “Decisions of the supreme court, including all decisions on prerogative writs, shall be in writing and shall contain a concise statement of the facts and reasons for each decision and reasons for each denial of leave to appeal. “When a judge dissents in whole or in part he shall give in writing the reasons for his dissent.”89 The Constitution also establishes a court of appeals, with the number of judges determined by law.90 Court of Appeals judges serve six-year terms, elected in staggered terms.91 They are elected in nonpartisan elections “from districts drawn on county lines and as nearly as possible of equal population, as provided by law.”92 The jurisdiction of the court of appeals is determined by law.93 Circuit courts are established along county lines, with a minimum of one judge per circuit, as provided by law.94 Circuit courts must conduct sessions at least four times a year, and the number of judges for each circuit is also established by law.95 Circuit court judges are nominated and elected in staggered (by circuit) non-partisan elections for six-year terms, and must live in the circuit to which they are elected.96 Circuit courts have “original jurisdiction in all matters not prohibited by law; appellate jurisdiction from all inferior courts and tribunals except as otherwise provided by law; power to issue, hear and determine prerogative and remedial writs; supervisory and general control over inferior courts and tribunals within their respective jurisdictions in accordance with the rules of the supreme court; and jurisdiction of other cases and matters as provided by the rules of the supreme court.”97 Probate judges are also established and follow the same elective and qualification procedures as circuit court judges.98 To serve as a judge, an individual must have been admitted to practice law for at least five years, and cannot be elected or appointed after reaching 70 years old.99 Judges are also ineligible to be “nominated for or elected to an elective office other than a judicial office during the period of his service and for one year thereafter.”100

Additional Provisions

The Michigan Constitution takes great care to address taxes and fiscal matters,101 local government,102 elections103 and many other matters. These matters are left to the states in the U.S. Constitution.104 Both constitutions have extensive protection of individual rights105 – a topic that could consume hundreds of pages of commentary and review.

The differences between our two constitutions are quite intense – revealing the origins and philosophies undergirding each. Understanding their differences gives us a deeper appreciation for the value they provide and any potential imperfections. Simply put, the U.S. and Michigan constitutions have a profound impact on our daily lives, significantly differ in scope and detail, and are well worth learning if we intend to preserve our liberties and freedoms.

Hon. Michael Warren has served on the Oakland County Circuit Court since 2002, and teaches constitutional law at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. He is a former member of the state board of education, co-creator of Patriot Week (, and author of America’s Survival Guide: How to Stop America’s Impending Suicide by Reclaiming Our First Principles and History. 

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41     Article II, Section 1.

42     Article II, Sections 1 and Amendment XII.

43     Article II, Section 1 and Amendment XXII.

44     Article I, Section 3.

45     Article II, Section 1.

46     Article II, Section 2.

47     Id.

48     Article II, Section 3.

49     Article 5, Section 1.

50     Article 5, Section 21.

51     Article 5, Section 21.

52     Article 5, Section 21.

53     Article 5, Section 21.

54     Article 5, Section 8.

55     Article 5 Section 8.

56     Article 5, Section 6.

57     Article 5, Section 8.

58     Article 5, Section 12.

59     Article 5, Section 14.

60     Article V, Section 18.

61     Article V, Section 25.

62     Article V, Section 22.

63     Article V, Section 21.

64     Article V, Section 21.

65     Article 5, Section 2.

66     Article 5, Section 2.

67     Article VIII, Section 3.

68     Article VIII, Section 5.

69     Article V, Section 29.

70     Article V, Section 28.

71     Article IX, Section 42.

72     Article IX, Section 41.

73     Article IX, Section 40.

74     Article IX, Sections 37-39.

75     Article IX, Section 35.

76     Article III, Section 1.

77     Article III, Section 1.

78     Article III, Section 2.

79     Article VI, Section 1.

80     Article VI, Section 2.

81     Article VI, Section 2.

82     Article VI, Section 2.

83     Article VI, Section 3.

84     Article VI, Section 3.

85     Article VI, Section 4.

86     Article VI, Section 5.

87     Article VI, Section 4.

88     Article VI, Section 30.

89     Article VI, Section 6.

90     Article VI, Section 8.

91     Article VI, Section 9.

92     Article VI, Section 8.

93     Article VI, Section 10.

94     Article VI, Section 11.

95     Article VI, Section 11.

96     Article VI, Section 12.

97     Article VI, Section 13.

98     Article VI, Section 15.

99     Article VI, Section 19.

100   Article VI, Section 20.

101   See, e.g., Article VII, Section 21; Article IX.

102   See, e.g., Article VII.

103   See, e.g., Article II.

104   Amendments IX-X.

105   See, e.g., United States Constitution, Amendments I-IX; Mich Const 1963, Article I.

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