Judge rejects GOP bid to delay Michigan redistricting commission

Voters Not Politicians, the group that spearheaded the 2018 ballot initiative and intervened in the GOP lawsuits, celebrated Neff's decision to deny the requests for a preliminary injunction. (Bridge file photo by Riley Beggin)

LANSING – Michigan can proceed with plans to create an independent redistricting commission after a federal judge on Monday rejected Republican attempts to immediately delay implementation of a state constitutional amendment voters approved last fall.

The decision by U.S. District Court Janet Neff, appointed by GOP former President George W. Bush, is a blow to Republicans who fought the 2018 ballot initiative and drew the state’s current congressional and legislative districts in 2011. An appeal appears likely.

In a 46-page opinion, Neff wrote that temporarily blocking the redistricting commission while she considers the fate of dual GOP lawsuits would be “extraordinary” and “drastic.” The panel is set to draw new political boundaries for the 2022 election cycle. 

The Michigan Republican Party and individual GOP plaintiffs claim restrictions on commission membership limit their free speech and association rights, but Neff ruled they “have not shown a likelihood of success on the merits” of claims made in their lawsuits, which remain active.

Even if the claims had merit, "preserving the status chosen by the voters more than one year ago is important as this case progresses through the courts toward final resolution," the judge ruled. 

The Michigan GOP alleges the commissioner selection process that’s underway violates its freedom of association rights by precluding parties from picking their own representatives to serve on the panel. 

Republican activists, in a separate lawsuit backed by the National GOP Redistricting Trust, allege that rules prohibiting individuals from serving on the commission because of political ties amount to a form of discrimination.

“We're going to take a look at what our legal options are," Michigan Republican Party spokesman Tony Zammit told Bridge Magazine late Monday. "We're going to continue to pursue this.” 

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, the named defendant in the GOP lawsuits, has defended the voter-approved law and last month launched the application process for the commission, which must include four Republicans, four Democrats and five residents who do not affiliate with either of the two major political parties. 

Voters Not Politicians, the group that spearheaded the 2018 ballot initiative and intervened in the GOP lawsuits, celebrated Neff's decision to deny the requests for a preliminary injunction. 

“Michigan voters amended our state Constitution to establish an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission and bring fair maps to Michigan,” executive director Nancy Wang said in a statement, noting that thousands have already applied to be on the commission.

Prior to the ballot initiative, Michigan law allowed whatever party had power in Lansing to control the redistricting process every ten years. Republicans drew current boundaries ahead of 2012 elections.

A three-judge federal panel struck down those maps last year, calling them a gerrymander of historic proportions designed to entrench Republican power at the expense of Democratic voters. But the U.S. Supreme Court effectively killed that case in June, ruling the redistricting process is a political decision reserved for the states and Congress.

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Al Churchill
Mon, 11/25/2019 - 9:19pm

That the Republicans are going to continue opposing a law, supported by over 60% ofthe electorate, is not surprising. At, both the national and state levels, they have, demonstably, made suppressing the vote of those in opposition to them axiomatic to their core beliefs. If it is gerrymandering in Michigan and other states, it is rigging the Census nationally. Their Party is corrupt to it's core.
Thank goodness for citizens groups like Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and Voters, not Politicians.

Tony Ettwein
Tue, 11/26/2019 - 8:26am

Agreed, Al. Independent voters will acknowledge exactly that.

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 12:42pm

Yup. The Republican Party at the Michigan level and at the national level is all about making the country like Russia: a 1 party country with no one really able to vote or have anything to say. And kill anyone who disagrees loud enough to be heard.
Trying to use the courts to kill off objections and once they seize control totally they can set about arresting anyone who won't go along.
We're halfway there now with Trump declaring himself king and ignoring laws, the Constitution, courts, etc.

Paul Jordan
Tue, 11/26/2019 - 12:32pm

This is a major victory, though I'm sure that the Republican plaintiffs will do their utmost to drag out the process by repeatedly appealing. (To be clear: If the Democrats had been as successful in securing such a monopoly on power they would be just eager to defend the status quo.)
The next step should be to build into the state constitution and low even more robust protections for voting.
As a start, conspiring to deprive anyone of the right to vote (or conspiring to dilute the power of any vote) should be a very serious felony. Then, perhaps we should implement non-partisan primaries and other elections for all public offices.

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 3:40pm

It is a dream and long-term goal of mine to start and make popular an independent caucus to coincide with the two major party caucuses. More than a third of the country identifies as independent, we need to have a SERIOUS platform for independents to send a COMPETITIVE candidate into the presidential election. Let the third parties come together to give at least one of them a larger voice.

Bob Calt
Tue, 11/26/2019 - 5:30pm

The problem with more than two parties is that if one party does not get a majority of votes in the electoral college the election goes the the House of Representatives with each state getting one vote. So Wyoming’s 600,000 or so people get an equal vote to California’s 30,000,000 plus people. We need to amend the constitution to get rid of the electoral college first.

Al Churchill
Tue, 11/26/2019 - 5:56pm

Paul Your comment about the Democrats being just as capable of trying to lock in power is spot on. While the vast majority of gerrymandering efforts across the nation have been initiated by the party of Donald trump, in a couple of states the Dems did exactly what the Republicans did in Michigan; gerrymander their states. Having been deeply involved, as a young man, in both UAW and Democratic political activity, it pains me to acknowledge that being the case. Reality demands so.
As you have indicated, there is a clear need for a legislative response, initiated by everyday citizen voters of every stripe. It is time to put partisan politics aside and defend what is central to the core of a democratic society: the ability of every vote to have equal weight.
As a start, this writer has decided, in every way possible, to support Voters Not Politicians.
Always find your commentary worth reading.