Court denies Republicans’ bid to halt Michigan’s redistricting commission


Voters Not Politicians, the group behind the successful ballot initiative to implement the commission, intervened in the case last fall to argue for the commission. (Bridge file photo)

Implementation of the Michigan redistricting commission should proceed as planned, a panel of three federal judges ruled Wednesday. 

Two cases brought against the state by the Michigan Republican Party and individual state Republicans asked the court to declare the voter-approved commission unconstitutional and halt its formation. 

“Today’s federal court decision upholding the authority of Michiganders to amend their state constitution and create citizen-led districting is a victory for our citizens and our democracy,” said Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Voters in 2018 approved the nonpartisan panel, which will redraw political boundaries after this year’s census, wresting the task from the party in power in the state Legislature.

Since 2000, that’s been Republicans. One suit challenged the constitutionality of eligibility guidelines that bar elected officials, candidates, lobbyists, legislative staffers and their family members from serving on the commission. The other suit claimed the commission’s selection criteria violate the Republican Party’s freedom of association by barring parties from choosing who represents them. 

The appeals court upheld a lower federal court’s decision. The three-judge Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel consisted of judges Karen Moore and Ronald Gilman, both appointed by President Bill Clinton,  and Chad Readler, who was appointed by President Donald Trump. 

The eligibility criteria are “part and parcel of the definition of this Commission, of how it achieves independence from partisan meddling,” Moore wrote in the opinion. “The government’s interest in avoiding partisan conflicts of interests and unsavory patronage practices” by including them aren’t unconstitutional. 

And the Michigan Republican Party’s fear that the commission would violate their freedom to association only can apply to elected officials bound to represent them, Moore wrote.

“The commissioners here are not elected, and their duties do not include translating ‘common principles’ with party adherents into ‘concerted action.’” 

“We are disappointed by today's court decision but stand by our belief that the current format of the redistricting committee is unconstitutional, and we will be reviewing our options in the coming days,” said Michigan Republican Party spokesperson Tony Zammit. 

Tony Daunt, executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund and one of the plaintiffs in the case brought by individual Republicans, also said: “Our team is reviewing the decision and will be making a determination on next steps in the near future.”

The decision may mean this challenge to the redistricting commission has come to an end. 

The GOP can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the high court decided last summer that federal courts don’t have a role in gerrymandering cases and decided in 2015 that redistricting commissions have the power to draw district lines. 

The Michigan redistricting commission will be a 13-member board of randomly-selected Republicans, Democrats and independent voters that will draw state and congressional voting district lines. 

Voters Not Politicians, the group behind the successful ballot initiative to implement the commission, intervened in the case last fall to argue for the commission. Lawyers from the Campaign Legal Center, a national voting rights advocacy group, spoke on their behalf in court during oral arguments in March.  

“We are pleased with the decision today, which places the interests of Michigan voters first. Taking partisanship out of drawing electoral maps is critical to advancing the principle of accountability in government,” said Paul Smith, an attorney with the CLC. “Michigan voters want fair maps. They will not be silenced by special interests, who continue to try and exert their will over the redistricting process.”

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Kevin Grand
Wed, 04/15/2020 - 8:46pm

So where was the part where the court will fix things when a democrat "accidentally" slips through?

Will that individual face jail time for lying about their political leanings?

Will the court order the commission to go back the drawing board and redraw everything?

Will anyone elected by the corrupted districts be removed from office and a new election order to remedy that mistake?

People don't want to address those questions.

I cannot imagine why?

Thu, 04/16/2020 - 10:33am

Why aren't you concerned about all parties?

Kevin Grand
Fri, 04/17/2020 - 8:51am

Truth be told, I'd be happy if they removed everything to do away with political parties altogether when it comes to elections.

Primary elections for offices should be scrapped entirely in favor of local caucuses paid for and operated by the parties themselves.

All party headings and iconography should be removed from ballots altogether. If you cannot wear a T-shirt, hat or pin in a polling place, then you shouldn't have to see anything on your ballot when you're standing in the polling booth.

I can go over a few more examples, but I'm short on time this morning. If the real goal of VNP was to have truly "independent" elections, THAT should've been their agenda.

But since VNP didn't feel that addressing what to do if the process ever became "corrupted" was important, this should tell you something about their end goal right there.

In case you haven't figured it out yet, the pendulum swings BOTH ways.

Grand White Flag
Fri, 04/17/2020 - 8:47pm

But you digress! LOL

Wed, 04/15/2020 - 9:01pm

Two words: Ha Ha

Voters Choose
Wed, 04/15/2020 - 9:02pm

This is what democracy looks like.

Thu, 04/16/2020 - 10:51am

"The Michigan redistricting commission will be a 13-member board of randomly-selected Republicans, Democrats and independent voters that will draw state and congressional voting district lines. "

Seriously? "Randomly-selected" voters?? Are we just going to hold a lottery, without regard to any sort of qualifications, to decide who will serve on the commission?

Maybe we could choose our words a little more carefully here.

Thu, 04/16/2020 - 12:36pm

So you feel having the Michigan Republican Party alone draw the redistricting is OK? A yes or no will suffice.

Paul Jordan
Thu, 04/16/2020 - 1:38pm

Yup, Gary, they are going to be chosen through a random drawing. What could be more (small 'd') democratic? That makes it impossible for either the Democrats or Republicans to stack the commission.
Because the Republicans orchestrated the current gerrymander, they are the ones who are crying to the courts to save them from a new deal. You can bet, though, that the Democrats would be squealing just as loudly if they had been the ones to select the districts over the last 20 years!
The bottom line is that we can't trust either major party to put our interests ahead of those of their 'investors'.

Fri, 04/17/2020 - 8:07am

I'd rather have random citizens than demonic Machiavellian schemers as we've had in the past.

Thu, 04/16/2020 - 3:27pm

So why is it that district 11, the one held up as an extreme vision of gerrymandering, is now held by a very liberal democrat. You better believe that if you are a conservative living in western Wayne county that your vote will never count. The dems won't be happy until they get 100% of the pie.

ho hO HO
Fri, 04/17/2020 - 8:22am

It's not about segregation, but representation. If western Wayne County is too liberal for you, cross the line and live in Livingston (L) or Oakland (LOL) or Washtenaw (LMAO). Dang progressives are taking over everywhere. You aren't forced to live anywhere and your views should be represented, but majority rules. There's a reason why when more people vote, the Democrats win. They are the majority. Statewide elections proved that in 2018. That's why in pandemic times when we will need to rely on absentee voting, Republicons want to dismantle the US Postal Service. Republicons HATE free and fair elections.

D Dodge
Fri, 04/17/2020 - 7:20am

This is excellent news!! Next step... rid our state of Jerrymandering and the electoral college !!

Sun, 04/19/2020 - 10:36am

This is a critical step towards a true democracy where your vote really does count. But it's just a step. We need to break the 2 party monopoly that divides us and gridlocks all progress.
Two other important changes are needed to save our great country: Ranked Choice Voting and abolishing the electoral vote.
The first, RCV, is a common method already used by most democratic countries throughout the world. That fix begins at the state level with legislation to adopt it as an approved voting process.
The electoral college must be abolished at the federal level with a repeal of an amendment to the constitution. It has been argued that the EC can be saved by state legislation that requires those votes ("them") to align to popular votes ("us"). But the EC would then be neutered and without serving any usefulness to our democracy. Basically, just a huge waste of tax dollars (which it already is).
Sign up and get involved with these two grass root campaigns for real change, to truely make America great again. And not just wear it on our t-shirts.