Constitutional Rights of Free Speech and Petition for Redress of Grievances

The United States and Michigan constitutions guarantee our rights to free speech and to petition the government for the redress of grievances.   During the past week, we have seen graphic and contrasting examples of these rights in action.   The federal and state constitutions protect both examples equally.   However, one would hope to hear less of the local speech and would also hope that the national example would have a positive influence upon the nature of political discourse in this country and state.

In Detroit during an open meeting of the financial review team charged with the task of reviewing the City’s financial affairs and working to develop a workable solution to the City’s dire financial condition, the minister of a local church shouted his disapproval of the financial team’s work and said words to the effect that rather than allow the team to “take over the city, we would burn it down first.”    The anger, resentment and ignorance which were the foundation for that statement graphically illustrated at least one of the reasons for Detroit’s deterioration during the past 45 or more years.

In marked contrast to the speech of the Detroit minister on Monday March 26, the United States Supreme Court on the same day began its unprecedented 3 days of hearings regarding the challenges to the federal health care law.    While the streets of Washington DC were filled with opponents and supporters of the law, the attorneys for the law’s challengers and defenders presented their arguments before the highest court in the land. They continued their presentations on the 27th and the 28th; a decision is expected in June of this year.

The adoption of the federal health care law has angered many persons and has provided fodder for many in the media and on the campaign trail.   In many instances we have heard emotionally-based  statements about the law.   Regardless of one’s personal opinion about the federal health care law, one had to appreciate the fact that the courts, and at the end of the day the Supreme Court, provided a forum within which the law’s challengers and proponents could make their arguments.    Also, during the evening newscasts after each day of the Supreme Court’s hearing, especially those on National Public Radio,  guest commentators provided keen and reasoned insight about and comment upon the arguments of the health care law’s opponents and supporters.   They also presented their respective predictions as to how the Justices would rule.   Sitting side by side in a radio studio or in a court room, the advocates respected each other and respected the process in which they were participating.    The contrast with the speech at the Detroit meeting was obvious and striking.

Litigation is not always an appropriate avenue to redress one’s grievances.   It is certainly not going to solve the City of Detroit’s dilemma.   However, our state and federal courts provide a forum and a structure within which one’s claims and concerns can be addressed and ruled upon in a reasoned and rational manner.     Time will tell how the Supreme Court will rule in the federal health care case.  However, we can be sure that the attorneys who represent the non-prevailing side will not threaten to burn anything.

For more information, please contact Fraser Trebilcock attorney Mike Perry at or 517.377.0846.