A three-judge panel at the appeals court said it was bound by legal precedent to put the issue on the ballot. Yet at the same time, the panel said it disagreed with that 2002 decision.
So, nearly 30 judges at the appeals court have about a month to vote on whether to give the case to a special panel of seven judges for yet another review.
The 2011 emergency manager law, passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Rick Snyder, allows the governor to appoint people to run cities and school districts that are financially distressed. Managers have sweeping authority to cut spending, sell assets and tear up contracts. Elected officials are powerless.
Opponents of the law submitted enough signatures to get it on the November ballot. But the Board of State Canvassers tied 2-2 along party lines on whether to approve it after critics said the size of the print on the petition was too small and violated state law.
The three-judge panel — Kurtis Wilder, Kirsten Frank Kelly and Michael Riordan — agreed that the petition heading violated the 14-point type requirement. But it said it had to follow a precedent-setting case from 10 years ago when type size led to a lawsuit in a petition drive to decide whether Pontiac could annex property in an Oakland County township.
In a statement, the governor praised the judges. He noted that the emergency manager law would be suspended through the Nov. 6 election if the referendum were placed on the ballot.
Providing communities "with the tools they need to get back on sound financial footing to provide effective services to their residents, parents, and students must remain a top priority," Snyder said.
John Philo, an attorney for Stand Up for Democracy, a coalition seeking the referendum, said action by the full appeals court is needed immediately.
"Every day of delay does more damage with the emergency managers that are in place," he said. "The will of the people has been expressed through the petitions. They want to have a referendum. That should be respected."
Managers are in place in Benton Harbor, Flint, Pontiac and Ecorse, as well as in public schools in Detroit, Highland Park and Muskegon Heights.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.