Michigan's Jan. 15 presidential primary can go forward, the state Supreme Court decided Wednesday, keeping alive the state's bid to be one of the 2008 campaign's first contests.
The court decision should make it easier for New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner to schedule that state's primary, which New Hampshire law requires to be the nation's first. Gardner has been waiting to see what the Michigan courts would do.
The high court's decision should clear the way for the Republican and Democratic parties to take part in the Jan. 15 primary. Both have already filed letters with the secretary of state saying that's their plan.
However, by holding its primary so early - in violation of the national parties' rules - Michigan stands to lose half of its delegates to the Republican National Convention, reducing the number to 30, and all of its 156 delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
The national parties have imposed similar penalties on other states as party leaders have struggled to regain control of a chaotic nominating calendar.
If Michigan has its primary on Jan. 15, that would put it behind only Iowa's caucuses on Jan. 3, Wyoming's caucuses on Jan. 5 and - according to many expectations - New Hampshire's primary on Jan. 8.
Democrats in Michigan have kept open the possibility of picking their presidential favorite through a party caucus, even if the primary is held.
That could delay a decision on the New Hampshire date even further. Michigan Sen. Carl Levin has suggested holding the Michigan caucus the same day as the New Hampshire primary, so Gardner doesn't want to make a decision until that issue is settled. A message seeking comment was left with his office. His deputy, David Scanlan, could not say when Gardner might set the New Hampshire date.
In its 4-3 decision Wednesday, the Michigan Supreme Court overturned lower court rulings that said the law setting up the primary was unconstitutional because it would let the state political parties keep track of voters' names and whether they took Democratic or GOP primary ballots but withhold that information from the public.
Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis said he was pleased the primary would be held and said Republicans would participate even if Democrats switched to a caucus.
"This is good for Michigan, this is good for Republicans and it's good for the process," he said.
Anuzis would like to see state House Democrats next week pass a bill that would restore the names of four Democratic presidential candidates who have withdrawn from the ballot. Barack Obama, John Edwards, Joe Biden and Bill Richardson pulled their names because the state violated Democratic National Committee rules by moving up the election.
A state Senate-passed bill would require all candidates' names to be on the ballot, although it also would give them the chance to withdraw again.
East Lansing political consultant Mark Grebner, one of several people who brought the suit arguing it was wrong to let only the political parties have access to the primary voter information, said he didn't plan to take any additional action at this point.
He doesn't object to the primary being held, but said other people should have access to the records because the information was obtained through an election paid for with public dollars. The circuit and appeals courts had agreed with his reasoning.