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Michigan Supreme Court will decide redistricting battle

Update: Republican Supreme Court justices have ties to Michigan gerrymandering group

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether a ballot measure that would create an independent commission to draw legislative districts in the state will be allowed to go before Michigan voters this November.

The state’s high court issued an order Friday saying it would hear oral arguments on the contentious case July 18. The fiercely contested measure pits the group, Voters Not Politicians, which supports redistricting reform, against a Republican and business-backed group challenging the validity of the measure.

At issue is whether the redistricting petition merely seeks to amend the state’s constitution or instead is a far broader revision to the constitution, which can only be made through a more formal constitutional convention?

Katie Fahey, founder and executive director of Voters Not Politicians, issued a statement Friday expressing confidence the proposal will remain on the ballot.

“Voters deserve an opportunity to fix the current process, where politicians manipulate election maps behind closed doors, by voting to create a transparent redistricting process,” Fahey wrote. The VNP measure, she added, allows “voters (to) draw the lines with public input and a set of strict criteria that prevent maps being drawn to favor politicians and special interests.”

The measure has already withstood a review by the Michigan Court of Appeals and was certified to appear on the fall ballot by state canvassers in June.

Currently, Michigan legislators redraw district lines every 10 years following  the U.S. Census. Whichever party is in power during that process can greatly influence how those lines are drawn, which has led to accusations of partisan gerrymandering. The ballot initiative would change the system to create an independent, 13-person board of citizens responsible for drawing the lines with the help of consultants and public hearings.

The redistricting case is being watched closely by political parties and activists in Michigan and across the nation. Democrats and progressives tend to back redistricting reform, noting that statewide voting totals in recent elections have been relatively equal between Democrats and Republicans and yet in state House and particularly Senate races the GOP has reaped huge electoral advantages. Republicans in turn have raised skepticism about the VNP proposal, which they suggest is a veiled effort to shift political power to Democrats in drawing boundary lines.

The petition is being challenged by Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, which contends the VNP proposal would too broadly change the state constitution and doesn’t properly specify those changes in its petition language.

“We believe the Court of Appeals got this wrong,” Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, the group opposing the initiative, wrote in a statement after the canvassers’ ruling in June. “The action of the Michigan Board of Canvassers is a step in the process but not the end of the process.”

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