Michigan redistricting group may hire law firm that has defended gerrymandering
Update: Michigan redistricting group hires law firm with GOP ties over objections
LANSING — Michigan’s redistricting panel is considering hiring a law firm that has defended congressional and state legislative maps that have been deemed unconstitutional gerrymanders.
The 13-member panel voted last week to interview E. Mark Braden and the firm BakerHostetler of Washington, D.C. to serve as litigation counsel to defend any court challenges to the congressional and legislative maps.
The interview is set for this Thursday.
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“They clearly are well qualified to handle any litigation that we might have,” Steve Lett, an independent on the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, said last Thursday.
But some are sounding alarms about the firm because it has defended Republican redistricting plans that courts determined were illegal. Braden, in addition to being one of the most experienced attorneys on redistricting in the nation, is the former chief counsel to the Republican National Committee, according to his biography.
Braden and BakerHostetler served as litigation counsel, and defended the state of Pennsylvania's 2011 congressional plan that was found unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2018 because it favored Republicans.
The firm also represented the Republican legislature of North Carolina in a challenge to its congressional and state legislative maps. Multiple courts found the districts unconstitutional and ordered lawmakers to draw new ones in 2019.
David Daley, the author of the book about redistricting, “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count,” called the decision to interview Braden and BakerHostetler “outrageous.”
“They have a lot of experience in redistricting,” Daley told Bridge Michigan Monday.
“Unfortunately, all of it is the wrong kind.”
Daley said that hiring the firm would “corrupt” the commission, which begins work in earnest this week when U.S. Census counts are expected to be released.
“People like Mark Braden, and BakerHostetler are exactly the kind of people those Michigan voters wanted out of the room when maps were being drawn,” Daley said.
Braden did not immediately respond to a message from Bridge Michigan seeking comment on Monday. In addition to redistricting law, he also served as chief counsel to the Ohio Elections Commission, special counsel to the U.S. House Oversight Committee and as principal attorney in huge recounts in New Jersey and Illinois, according to his biography.
According to the proposal submitted by Braden and BakerHostetler, the litigation counsel would consist of five attorneys and a paralegal, including attorney Katherine McKnight. Braden charges $915 the hour, while McKnight charges $670.
McKnight is a prominent Washington, D.C.-based attorney who has represented legislatures in redistricting cases, and has been invited to advise legislators about what to do and what to avoid.
At a July gathering of state legislators and redistricting commissions in Salt Lake City attended by Bridge Michigan, McKnight talked to lawmakers about “email hygiene” and the importance of avoiding using email when communicating about redistricting plans.
“If you can meet with someone in person, do that. If you can't do that, call them. If you absolutely must send them an email, (write) ‘call me,’” McKnight said. “Don't put it in email — it will be dissected, misunderstood or twisted and played against you in court.”
McKnight didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission was created after Michigan voters in 2018 overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that created the panel.
This will be the first redistricting cycle for the group. In the past, the party in power at the state’s legislature was in charge of drawing districts after every decennial census, which led to some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country.
Edward Woods III, the communications and outreach director for the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, told Bridge Michigan the panel sent out two requests for proposals for litigation counsel and only BakerHostleter submitted a bid.
“As always, we welcome and consider public input in making our decisions openly and transparently,” Woods said in an email.
Voters Not Politicians, the group that fought and pushed for the constitutional amendment that created the redistricting group, told Bridge Michigan the commission should take its time and solicit more proposals.
“There are so many well respected, very experienced redistricting litigation firms that would do a great job in Michigan and that wouldn't raise the same kinds of questions as BakerHostetler, which has a history of defending both partisan and racial gerrymandered maps,” said Nancy Wang, the executive director of Voters Not Politicians.
This is not the first time the commission attracts scrutiny over a potential hire.
Republicans criticized the commission over the hiring of Bruce Adelson, a Maryland-based attorney, as the Voting Rights Act attorney. Adelson donated $125 to the 2018 campaign of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat.
The commission also hired Kimball Brace of Virginia-based Election Data Services, Inc., to help with the drawing of the maps.
Brace has been accused of being behind some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country. His proposal to the commission acknowledged the company is sometimes viewed as leaning Democratic.
"Everybody thinks a district is gerrymandered if they don't like it,” Brace told the commission in March.
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