In East Lansing, Michigan, landlords have recently been subjected to an ordinance that compelled them to deliver voter registration messages to their new tenants. This city code imposed penalties on landlords who failed to convey these messages about registering to vote. However, on March 16, 2023, Thomas More Society attorneys filed a lawsuit in federal court to halt East Lansing’s unconstitutional requirement.
The suit sought permanent injunctive relief, barring the city from enforcing any provision of the city code in question. Thomas More Society Special Counsel Erick Kaardal stated that the ordinance represented a blatant violation of landlords’ First Amendment rights. He explained that by compelling landlords to inform tenants about voter registration or by making them act as couriers for the municipality’s ideological messages, East Lansing infringed upon landlords’ rights.
Kaardal argued that registering to vote is irrelevant to a tenant’s decision to enter into a lease agreement, and the First Amendment protects an individual’s right to refrain from speaking as much as it protects their right to speak freely. Kaardal further remarked that the ordinance was “ludicrous” and compared it to conscripting a local grocer to hand out property tax bills while collecting payment for purchases. He said that while engaged in private employment, landlords were being required to perform a function that the municipal government deemed important, even though these two activities did not belong together. Moreover, threatening landlords with civil violations if they refused to participate was simply wrong.
The lawsuit filed by Thomas More Society attorneys highlighted the contrast between landlords’ constitutional rights and the city’s unconstitutional ordinance. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances. However, the City of East Lansing Code of Ordinances, which required landlords to provide tenants with specific information on voter registration and related requirements, violated these protections. Kaardal cited a 2020 case in which a federal judge declared similar ordinances enacted by the City of Saint Paul and City of Minneapolis to be unconstitutional for attempting to require landlords to provide voter registration information to new tenants.
As a result of the lawsuit filed by Thomas More Society attorneys, the East Lansing City Council unanimously agreed to repeal the ordinance at their March 21, 2023 meeting. The decision is seen as a significant victory for both individual rights and election integrity. By challenging the ordinance, the Thomas More Society has not only protected the rights of landlords but also helped to eliminate potential avenues for voter manipulation and fraud.
The successful efforts of the Thomas More Society in this case underscore the organization’s commitment to defending individual rights and upholding the principles of free speech and election integrity. The society’s ongoing advocacy for constitutional rights continues to make a tangible difference in communities across the country.