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Voters Not Politicians asks to intervene in Michigan GOP redistricting suit

Michigan gerrymandering ballot initiative

Oct. 21, 2019: U.S. high court kills Michigan gerrymandering case ordering new districts
Related: Michigan GOP files new suit to stop independent redistricting commission

The group behind the ballot drive that created Michigan’s new redistricting commission has filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit by state Republicans asking a federal judge to shut down the commission. 

Voters Not Politicians argues in its legal motion, filed Monday, that the commission, overwhelmingly approved by voters last November, is constitutional. It pushed back on claims by Michigan Republicans that restrictions on who can serve on the commission violate the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. 

“Voters Not Politicians denies that Plaintiff's complaint raises principles of free speech, political association, or any other issue of constitutional importance,” the motion reads. 

In the GOP suit filed in July, Michigan Freedom Fund Executive Director Tony Daunt, state Sen. Tom Barrett, Board of State Canvassers member Norm Shinkle and other prominent Republicans argue that rules outlining who can serve on the 13-member commission unfairly exclude people with certain political roles and their family members. 

Nancy Wang, the executive director of Voters Not Politicians, said in a statement accompanying the group’s legal motion that the restrictions were “drafted to ensure that those with the greatest potential for conflicts of interest are not the ones who are drawing the (state’s legislative and congressional) maps.” 

“We’re confident that the amendment will survive this and any other legal challenges, just as it overcame previous challenges by many of the same special interests who are behind this suit,” she continued. 

The plaintiffs — individuals who say they would be excluded from serving on the commission, but would like to apply — argue the restrictions, in essence, punish people for having previously participated in the political process. Those who have been partisan candidates or elected officials, officers of political parties, political consultants, legislative staffers and more (as well as their immediate family members) within the last six years are ineligible to serve on the commission. 

VNP’s motion “does not change the fact that this commission is an assault on the Constitutional rights of every Michiganian,” Daunt told Bridge via text message Monday. “I’m surprised that any individual or group would defend a policy of punishing and excluding people from serving their state simply because they choose to exercise the rights afforded to them in our Constitution.”

Among other rights, the First Amendment grants people the right to political association and the 14th shields people from discrimination for exercising that right. Plaintiffs argue being excluded from a paid state government position offered to others violates those amendments. 

Daunt told Bridge last month he estimates at least 500,000 people would be barred from serving on the commission under the current rules, based on the number of people active in state and county parties and lobbying activities, multiplied by the number of people in the average family. 

“There is not a sufficient ‘fit’ between the exclusion of Plaintiffs and the asserted interests of transparency, impartiality, and fairness that motivated the establishment of the Commission,” the suit reads. “In particular, the selection system may actually inhibit transparency, impartiality, and fairness because eligible applicants may be no less partisan than those who fall into the excluded categories.”

Voters Not Politicians propelled the statewide signature campaign that resulted in the approval of a state constitutional amendment requiring the creation of redistricting commission independent from the legislature. 

More than 60 percent of voters approved the creation of a redistricting commission on the statewide ballot last November. The commission is to include 13 members: four Republicans, four Democrats and five people unaffiliated with either party. 

The commission will be responsible for drawing Michigan’s legislative and congressional districts after the 2020 U.S. Census. Currently, lawmakers are elected to districts drawn by the party that controlled the state Legislature after the last Census (for the last two cycles, that has been Republicans). A three-judge panel ruled those lines were illegally gerrymandered in April; Republicans appealed that ruling but it was made moot by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June, which concluded that such controversies were ultimately political questions best decided by the states. 

The plaintiffs argue that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson should stop implementing the new redistricting law and that the commission should be invalidated. 

Voters Not Politicians argues that even if the restrictions on who can serve on the commission are struck down in court, the implementation of the commission itself should proceed.

No hearings have yet been set in the case.

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