The First Amendment is under attack in Michigan

  Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

We all know President-Elect Donald Trump is not a big fan of the First Amendment. During the campaign, the Republican complained it has "too much protection" for free speech. He's routinely targeted journalists at rallies and on Twitter as an intimidation tactic.

After winning the election, Trump's first tweet took aim at people protesting against him, which he whined was "unfair." A few weeks later, he went even further, tweeting the threat that those who exercise their 1A right to burn the American flag could be jailed or stripped of their citizenship.

But while Trump dominates news coverage by unloading outrageous tweets and unveiling cabinet picks with reality show-style flair, the Michigan Legislature has fired a shot against the First Amendment.

Those of us in the Mitten State are used to Republicans who control state government ramming through unpopular right-wing legislation during the lame duck session. Unions are a frequent scapegoat, as we saw with the 2012 Right to Work law

This time around, the House has narrowly passed bills that would jack up fines on unions for "illegal" picketers (from $1,000 to $10,000 a day) and make it easier to hire replacement workers (i.e. scabs).

Using labor for political target practice is bad enough. At a time when Michigan's median income still clocks in $5,000 below what it was in 2007, it's amazing that lawmakers keep going after unions trying to win and protect fair wages. But the bills will also likely silence peaceful protests. My read of the legislation (as well as that of several lawyers) is that it's written so broadly that it could run afoul of the First Amendment.

Now that may not deter the Republican-controlled Legislature from sending this package to Gov. Rick Snyder's desk. And the governor, who's a lawyer, has a history of signing bills that experts warned were unconstitutional.

But it would really be something for a significant First Amendment challenge to originate in Michigan. And it's likely a sign of things to come in the Trump era.