Four takeaways from Michigan Supreme Court upholding redistricting ballot proposal

The Michigan Supreme Court allowing a redistricting proposal to be placed on the November ballot has an impact beyond the measure itself.

Update: Michigan Supreme Court up for grabs after 2018 election
Related: Here’s how Michigan’s redistricting commission would work
Related: Michigan redistricting ballot language rejects partisan phrasings

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled 4-3 giving a bipartisan citizen commission control of drawing political boundaries to go onto the November ballot.  What does that decision mean for Michigan going forward?

Michigan joins a national trend

Residents of several other states, including Colorado, Utah and possibly Missouri, will be voting in November on measures to make the drawing of political maps less partisan. Ohio residents voted overwhelmingly to approve redistricting reform in May. California voters approved a citizen commission a decade ago. You can read about their experience here.

Fears of partisanship on the Michigan Supreme Court were overblown

Justices, like all judges, are supposed to be nonpartisan, weighing decisions based on their understanding of the law, not their political inclinations. And the average voter wouldn’t know otherwise ‒ there are no party labels next to Michigan Supreme Court candidates’ names, and the candidates are listed on the “nonpartisan” section of the ballot along with ballot proposals.

But the legal battle over the Voters Not Politicians ballot measure exposed the tremendous partisanship inherent in Michigan’s system for selecting Supreme Court candidates, in which candidates are nominated by political parties. Republican-backed justices hold a 5-2 advantage on the high court. And they share something beyond party affiliation: The Republican justices and the committee that organized the legal challenge to the VNP ballot measure were both financially backed by the Republican-leaning Michigan Chamber of Commerce. Yes, the very chamber that, as Bridge has reported, was apparently neck-deep in the naked gerrymandering of Michigan legislative districts back in 2011 to protect Republican candidates.

But those partisan and financial connections didn’t stop two of the five justices appointed or nominated by Republicans ‒ David Viviano and Elizabeth Clement ‒ from joining two Democratic justices in voting to keep the measure on the ballot. Clement’s vote could be considered particularly bold, coming weeks before she was set to be nominated by the Republican Party for election this fall.

October update: Michigan’s Republican black-sheep justice is winning some unlikely allies
Update: Amid jeers, Michigan Republicans select a supreme court justice who strayed
Related: Will Michigan Republicans take down Justice Clement? If so, here’s how.

That was a battle, not the war

Expect the Michigan Republican Party and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce to pull out all the stops to try to defeat what will now be known primarily as Prop 2 on the November ballot. Many Republicans view the measure as a Democratic ploy to redistrict in their favor, or at least redistrict in a fashion that does not favor Republicans, such as the current map drawn by the GOP in 2011 does. Voters Not Politicians is already on the air with a 60-second TV and online ad supporting the ballot measure. By November, the total spent by opponents and supporters will likely be between $7 million and $15 million.

A clear way to distinguish between candidates for governor.  

Republican candidates have spoken out against the ballot measure. Democratic candidates support it. There’s not much doubt where Bill Schuette stands: The current attorney general and leading Republican candidate for governor heading into the Aug. 7 primary had his office appear at the Supreme Court to argue that the proposal should be thrown off the ballot.  The leading Democratic candidate, Gretchen Whitmer, has been equally clear that she believes redistricting should be taken out of the hands of partisan legislators.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Dan Sullivan
Wed, 08/01/2018 - 5:19am

One small win for democracy; one giant step for the People of Michigan!

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 8:46am

I still think the court is very partisan, this was an unusual case in that the emails were so egregious that a couple of justices couldn't bring themselves to toe the party line on this issue.

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 12:07pm

Perhaps the next voter initiative should be one to change the manner in which Michigan Supreme Court Justices are selected. The idea that they are nominated as partisans, and run ad non-partisans, is absurd on the face of it.

Julie Ludwig
Wed, 08/01/2018 - 9:33pm

Absolutely agree. Judges nominated by parties give no one any confidence in the judicial process.

Gretchen Davis
Wed, 08/01/2018 - 9:22am

Should Elizabeth Clement not receive the nomination from the Republican Party in November because she did the right thing by siding with the voters of this state, she should be proud of her decision. She (and David Viviano) took the "high road" in joining the two Democratic justices, and honoring the wishes of the voters to have a say in preventing future gerrymandering schemes from any political party.

Both of justice's had the integrity to stand up to their own party's politics, their blatant gerrymandering over the years, and helped allow this measure to be placed on the ballot for the voters to decide!

Stephen C Brown
Wed, 08/01/2018 - 11:20am

Good point. I'm of a mind to contribute to their re-election campaigns, since they clearly value the rule of law. On the other hand, Justice Markham's emotional rant: "The 'people' would find 'fundamentally redefining' a restructuring of their Constitution that deprived them and their chosen representatives of any role in the foundational process of our system of self-government-- the process by which election districts are established, citizens are joined together or separated by political boundaries, and the building blocks of our governing institutions are determined. Inserted in place is the governance of 13 randomly selected 'people' entirely lacking in any democratic or electoral relationship with the other 10 million 'people' of this state or their elected representatives." is incoherent. This statement indicates that he doesn't have the temperament to be a judge, period.

Thu, 08/02/2018 - 9:49am

So what is the connection of the commission members to the voters? I haven't understood that we would be voting for them? So where is the connection then?

Sat, 08/11/2018 - 8:58pm

The connection to the voters is essentially irrelevant. How much input did you have the last time the district lines were drawn. More important is the proposal opens the process to public observation and input, unlike the current situation.

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 9:34am

"There’s not much doubt where Bill Schuette stands: The current attorney general and leading Republican candidate for governor heading into the Aug. 7 primary had his office appear at the Supreme Court to argue that the proposal should be thrown off the ballot."

One of the many outrageous actions that will appear in campaign ads for the Democratic candidate. Thanks Schuette for helping our cause by showing the GOP does not stand for WE THE PEOPLE.

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 4:20pm

"Fears of partisanship on the Michigan Supreme Court were overblown"... This is a bit of an overstatement. The case was decided 4-3. If it was decided 4-3 against the initiative, I doubt we'd be saying partisanship on the court was overblown. The fact that it even came to this showcases how much power the Chamber of Commerce and Republican Party currently have. There is virtually nothing unusual about this initiative and yet it was in front of the court within weeks of it being approved as a ballot initiative.

Put more simply, how can fears of partisanship on the court ever be "overblown" when justices are nominated by the Democratic and Republican parties? Even if the judges are pure as the driven snow, the link to political parties should raise constant concern among citizens.

Thu, 08/02/2018 - 10:13am

So great you want to reduce the partisanship of judicial ... and all elections? How about starting with not labeling any candidates with their political parties? And kill the entirely partisan idea of straight party voting? Oh wait, ... recent history shows when it comes right down to it, and the goal of dampening the the tribal us vs. them, Democrats vs. Republicans, the Democratic Party (and 90% of Bridge readers) just want to complain and blame the other party and trot out his type of fantasy solution (likely just switching who's getting the advantage) rather than to do anything to actually curb it.

Tue, 09/25/2018 - 4:55pm


Thomas E Graham
Fri, 09/28/2018 - 10:23pm

Proposal 2 is reasonably considered racist.
Why are families of elected officials disqualified? If we can't have families of elected officials qualify, then why not disqualify all government workers, including teachers and the military? This is discrimination.
Why isn't the application and the process to determine which applications are qualified published?
Why isn't the training each of the selected people will receive published?
Who is going to make certain the consultants they can hire are not biased?
What happens if they can't agree on the district maps, do they have permanent jobs for the next 10 to 30 years earning "at least 25% of the governors salary?"
Are these intended to be full time positions?
Will the only people who qualify be people without jobs? Do we really want people who can't hold a job redistricting?
If the districts are more competitive, then we lose seniority in the US Congress more often.
This is just a bad piece of legislation.