Michigan GOP files new suit to stop independent redistricting commission

Michigan gerrymandering ballot initiative

Thursday’s lawsuit was the second seeking to thwart the 13-member commission before it starts. Voters Not Politicians, the group behind the ballot drive that created the commission, panned the lawsuit on Thursday. (Bridge file photo by Riley Beggin)

The Michigan Republican Party is suing to block the creation of a citizens commission established to redraw the state’s legislative and Congressional boundaries. 

In a lawsuit filed Thursday, the state GOP asks a U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids to invalidate the amendment to create the redistricting commission — stopping Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, from seating any members.

In November, voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to create the commission, which was pitched as a way to limit political parties from drawing boundaries for their own political gain. 

The lawsuit argues the structure of the 13-member commission — billed as politically independent  — violates the GOP’s freedom of association by barring political parties from picking their own representatives. 

“The proposal usurps the role of political parties in selecting their nominees for partisan public office, and in the case of the Michigan Republican Party, places that responsibility instead in the hands of a highly partisan elected official of the opposite political party,” the complaint says. 

The legal challenge comes one month after a seperate group of Republicans sued to stop the redistricting overhaul. That group claims the new process unconstitutionally blocks people with certain political or partisan affiliations and their family members from serving. 

In a statement Thursday, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel vowed to “vigorously defend Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the legality of the redistricting commission, preserving the will of the people and their right to adopt amendments to Michigan’s Constitution at the polls.”

Currently, lawmakers in whichever party controls the state Legislature  draw Michigan’s legislative and Congressional boundaries following every U.S. Census. That has sparked charges of gerrymandering — the idea that politicians pick their voters, rather than the other way around. That system appears destined to stay in place through the 2020 elections. 

Republicans currently control the Legislature, though Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would need to approve their redistricting plan. 

But in November, more than 60 percent of voters approved a proposition to create a commission comprising four Republicans, four Democrats and five people unaffiliated with either party to redraw boundaries for 2022 and afterward. 

The new law requires Benson and future secretaries of state to mail commissioner applications to 10,000 Michigan registered voters, selected at random. 

Benson’s office plans to accept applications through June 2020, and then contract an outside firm to draw 200 applicants from the pool, which must be representative of the geographic and demographic diversity of the state. Of those 200, legislative leaders (including Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield and House Minority Leader Christine Greig) may each strike five applicants. The 13 commissioners will be randomly selected from the final pool of 180.

The law requires applicants to attest under oath whether they affiliate with with one of the state’s two main parties, and if so, which one. The Michigan GOP says proposal did not define “affiliation,” and the process violates the party’s constitutional freedom to pick its own representatives. 

GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox, one of the individual plaintiffs in Thursday’s lawsuit, called the system “crazy” and said it would allow Democrats to influence who represents the Republican party, considering that Benson’s office is overseeing the process. 

“We do not oppose the concept of a fairly designed and implemented redistricting committee, but that is not what this is,” Cox said in a statement. “Instead this is an assault on the associational rights of political parties.”

Thursday’s lawsuit listed other states that had created independent redistricting commissions “without the same constitutional infirmities and violations that exist as a result of the Michigan ballot proposal.” Those included Arizona, Idaho and California.

Voters Not Politicians, the group behind the ballot drive that created the commission, panned the lawsuit on Thursday. The group suggested the Michigan GOP was trying to protect its power.

“The redistricting reform amendment, and the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, that voters overwhelmingly passed in 2018 restores political power to the people,” Nancy Wang, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “Those who have the most power to lose will do whatever they can to keep hold of it, but we are confident the redistricting amendment will withstand this legal challenge and all others, and that the will of the people will prevail.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that federal courts have no authority to weigh in on legislative gerrymandering, leaving the process in the hands of states and Congress. That decision effectively killed a similar federal case pending in Michigan related to this state’s 2011 redistricting process.

That case unearthed emails dating to 2011 that showed Republicans bragging about how their district maps would preserve their political advantage.

Thursday’s lawsuit was the second seeking to thwart the commission before it starts. 

In a complaint filed in July, a separate group of Republicans argued commission’s selection process unconstitutionally excluded certain people with political or partisan roles and their family members.

Seeking to curb political influence, the voter-approved amendment excluded several categories of people from serving. That includes anyone who has been, within the last six years:

  • A partisan candidate or elected official in local, state or federal government
  • An officer in a political party
  • A consultant or employee for a political candidate, campaign or political action committee 
  • State and federal legislative staffers
  • State and federal registered lobbyists and their employees
  • Unclassified state employees, except those who work for public universities, the courts or the armed forces
  • The parent, child or spouse of any of the above people, including stepparents and children

The July lawsuit — filed by Michigan Freedom Fund Executive Director Tony Daunt, state Sen. Tom Barrett, Board of State Canvassers member Norm Shinkle and other prominent Republicans — claimed the exclusions violate their rights under the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Thursday’s lawsuit also echoed those criticisms.

Voters Not Politicians has asked to intervene in the July lawsuit, and Nessel has asked the District Court to dismiss it. 

"The problem that the People of the State of Michigan sought to address with the amendment was the partisanship with which legislative districts were being drawn, and the solution they chose was to take that power out of the hands of people with a direct interest in the outcome,” Nessel’s office wrote in a legal filing Monday. "This is essentially no different than excluding people from jury duty who have a relationship to the parties or who have a stake in the outcome of the case."

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abe bubush
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 9:37pm

Elections have consequences.

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 9:55am

Now if only the Republican party would acknowledge that and abide by the voters decision.

Cliff Yankovich
Fri, 08/23/2019 - 9:20am

Don't you just love it. The opening paragraph tells us "voters overwhelmingly" passed the effort to put an end to jerrymandering. How in the heck can a political party justify ANY attempt to undo what the people of Michigan voted for in large numbers? This is one of several reasons why I no longer identify with the Republican Party.

Steve H.
Fri, 08/23/2019 - 9:38am

None of this should come as any kind of surprise, really. Over the years, the Repubs have never had real concern with what the voters want or have mandated. They will do their best to worm their way around anything that doesn't agree with the desires of their donor overlords. I've seen it time and time again.

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 1:01pm

Yes. Absolutely. They really believe they have their own mandate and it doesn't include the voters or citizens of Michigan. They'd be happy to get rid of voting and just have the business community and super wealthy decide everything. Then they'd decide what we have to think and set up at way to 'police' the people who think the voters and citizens should have a say.

Steve H.
Fri, 08/23/2019 - 9:41am

“We do not oppose the concept of a fairly designed and implemented redistricting committee, but that is not what this is,” Cox said in a statement.

This statement would clearly fall into the "total BS" category. They oppose it with all their being. It takes away their ability to manipulate the voting system to their advantage.

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 9:47am

Pseudo-Republicans, stop subverting the will of the people. The system was broke. No replacement will be perfect but it will be better. I used to vote across party lines but never again so have cheer, Republicans, because I am over 65. The banality of evil represented by this new Republican party is a bridge I just cannot cross. Democrats are also shooting themselves in the feet but the Republicans will never reverse the damage this clown has wrought and the only power left to me is to never vote for one again...even for dogcatcher.

Too Late?
Fri, 08/23/2019 - 1:02pm

No one should vote for Republicans because the damage is so bad now, there is probably no turning back of anything. Trump appointees are filling all the courts, bottom to top, and those judges will be deciding any cases that Democrats bring by LEGISLATING FROM
THE BENCH, the thing they claim to hate, and ignoring the will of the voters. Democrats have to vote en masse every election, not every four years. We are now living under neo fascism and Trump doesn't even hide it. Yet the mainstream media calls anything centrist or progressive "far left" "socialism". Yeah, schools, libraries, roads, healthcare are socialism. Having the government regulate your periods and demanding funerals, or insisting on jail time, is just Making America Great Again! Nothing extreme there! When will the mainstream media talk about Trump and his followers for what they are as corrupt lying fascist extremists? No, the main stream media seems to think Trump is centrist. Hell, they don't even seem to refer to all the white nationalists as extremists.

Jonah 4
Fri, 08/23/2019 - 11:01am

Typical of the Republicans who want to be the dictators. About all they can do is file suits against what a majority of voters passed. Too bad they can't spend their efforts to improve Michigan roads, infrastructure and schools but they are too busy satisfying the State Chamber of Commerce and its minions.

Dr. Kurt
Fri, 08/23/2019 - 12:42pm

"GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox... called the system “crazy” and said it would allow Democrats to influence who represents the Republican party." Really? She thinks its "unfair" for a single political party to have undue influence on the system because they have been voted into positions of influence? Where was that indignation in 2011? This level of hypocrisy is hard to believe.

Al Churchill
Wed, 08/28/2019 - 5:33am

A while back, in the middle of a statewide election that Laura Cox was running in, the League of Women Voters held a candidates forum. Mrs. Cox, whose main credential seems to be that she is the spouse of former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, had the negative aspects of gerrymandering explained to her. She was then asked how she felt about that issue. Her response, if I can paraphrase her accurately, "Seems to be working pretty good so far." Integrity and deep faith in democratic processes are not among Cox's fundamental attributes.

Perhaps that is why she was beaten in a Republican district by a top notch rookie Democrat, Dana Polhankey, during the last election.

Good riddance to an unprincipled product of nepotism. That she is now the state leader of the Republican party clearly demonstrates that being connected is a higher priority in the party that makes such a huge issue of merit otherwise.

Paul Jordan
Fri, 08/23/2019 - 1:17pm

The criticism of the Republican's hypocrisy amid their efforts to take permanent control of state government is warranted.
But their opposition shouldn't act too smug. The reality is that the corporate Democrats basically are no more virtuous than the corporate Republicans.
The people voted so strongly to create an independent commission because I think we all recognize that the Republican and Democrat political corporations first serve their own interests, and not ours. Democracy must be kept firmly in the hands of the people!

Matt G
Sat, 08/24/2019 - 4:37pm

Can we please stop with the "BoTH sIDes aRE ThE SaME" nonsense?

Sun, 08/25/2019 - 5:31pm

Comparing the two parties means one of two things: you live in an alternative reality world, or you are republican troll.
Democrats have their faults, but treason, sedition, and authoritarian evangelical control are not any of them.
We are living in crazy world with chump president. Destroying children's lives by cutting funding to special needs kids, caging them with minimum hygiene needs met, separating families with no way to reunite most of them, eliminating environmental laws/rules, bankrupting farmers, starting trade wars, my god, the list never ends.
Progressive Democrats are our best bet to change our country and return it to its' original intent: A free population working together to make a better world for all of its citizens.

Sat, 08/24/2019 - 6:56am

Republicans will do anything to keep citizens out of power.

middle of the mit
Sat, 08/24/2019 - 7:48am

More crap from the party that says it is the party of freedom. What and or whose freedom?

The Republican party over the last 8 years have been on a bender. That bender is all about taking power from the people and giving it to themselves. How else do you explain the EMF law that the people voted against and the Repubs went and wrote a new EMF law and added a financial rider, like they have with every law they passed, so as to make the laws referendum proof. Then they made it harder for citizens to pass laws.

Sounds like they have the peoples interests in the front of their mind, doesn't it?

"The law requires applicants to attest under oath whether they affiliate with with one of the state’s two main parties, and if so, which one. The Michigan GOP says proposal did not define “affiliation,” and the process violates the party’s constitutional freedom to pick its own representatives."

“We do not oppose the concept of a fairly designed and implemented redistricting committee, but that is not what this is,” Cox said in a statement. “Instead this is an assault on the associational rights of political parties.”

Hey MI GOP! Union workers are asking the same question you are, but you made laws restricting their ability for FREEDUMB Of association. Why is it that the People of the State of Michigan can not do the same to elected officials?
What's wrong? Does your medicine taste bad? It's nearly the same as what you did to workers.

Flint is asking about it's standing and representation. When is the GOP going to help them for the mess they created?

When are you going to allow the PEOPLE OF MICHIGAN to have their representation and their will done?

You are the ones trying to take it away. Put a republican in government and they will destroy government so that the private industry can take over.

How many of you have a constitution with private companies that protects you from them?
Go ahead, negotiate individually with your PRIVATE INSURANCE co, your cable company for better rates. Let us know how that works out for you.

Darryle Buchanan
Sun, 08/25/2019 - 7:31am

GOP not in favor. Wonder why?

Robert DeCoe
Sun, 08/25/2019 - 8:43am

Michigan Republican Party are trying to keep all the Republican Gerrymandered voting Districts from being redrawn. Michigan voted by 67 percent to set up a Commission to redraw the Districts! The commission will have 5 Democrats,5 Republicans and 6 Independents . All elected government people are not allowed to serve on the Commission . Republicans are saying that is not fair! Prop2 was passed to keep politicians from drawing the Districts for a reason!

Mon, 08/26/2019 - 12:52pm

The only thing worse than a corporate Democrat is a Republican. Can't wait for 2020 to send the rest of these little Mackinac Center stooges packing.