Voters Not Politicians asks to intervene in Michigan GOP redistricting suit

Michigan gerrymandering ballot initiative

Several categories of people are excluded from serving on the 13-member commission, including people who have run for or served in partisan elected office  — and their family members — within the last six years. The plaintiffs in the case argue that’s unconstitutional. (Bridge file photo by Riley Beggin)

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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Tue, 08/13/2019 - 8:48am

Why do republican hate us voters????

Tom D
Tue, 08/13/2019 - 8:57am

My state senator alleged that there was no law suit and that nothing could be done until after the election and census as they did not know the populations in the cities.
I really do not understand why Michigan can't do what was done in Pennsylvania and until the census is complete redraw the lines based on existing population density. My district should not encompass three counties in the shape of a horseshoe.
I don't really favor either party however the arrogance of the Republicans is beyond belief. The line "Of the People, By the People" no longer exists in Michigan.

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 9:36am

Somebody wrote a study that claims census driven and computer-driven districts are unfair. IOW, a load of bull with great stats and you know what stats are, lies with numbers attached. I'm all for anything that takes any influence away from both the worthless parties. But we are stuck with a pick and choose press. And no way you can convince me that the press isn't loaded with personal agendas.

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 9:33am

I'm all for ending partisan districting. But I'm also all for getting rid of straight-ticket voting too. Don't bother with the utter baloney about lines being longer. That's a lie, When a clerk does the job properly, the lines will be addressed and fixed as needed. (hint, look at Winfrey for gross incompetence) But Democrats want stupid voters. That's why a Democratic-appointed judge overruled us to keep it. You want to get rid of party influence, take any party advantage away from all of them, not just the ones that you think will help yours.

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 1:25pm

Why should we even label the party that a given candidate runs under. There's nothing in the US or MI constitution requiring this. Makes as much sense as labeling the religion or sex of a given candidate. Democrats love to decry partisanship then do everything to amplify it.

john chastain
Fri, 08/16/2019 - 9:36am

Matt, neither you nor lennie are serious about partisanship being the problem. Its obvious from your reference to “democrats” as if the republicans haven’t been in power and gamed / cheated to stay that way. You want to free up the process and diminish political bosses influence then have open primaries. That way no one “base” controls the outcome. There was a time when political parties were a mix of political outlooks and opinions. It wasn’t perfect by far but you did see better results and less gridlock. If you want your comments taken seriously then remember that no one political party is the problem, its systemic to our form of democracy. We were warned about parties by some of the founders and they were right.

Joan M McComber
Tue, 08/13/2019 - 12:07pm

Why do Republicans think that these restrictions on who can join this commission only affects them? There needs to be a line drawn in order to ensure those who participate are truly impartial, and want fair lines drawn. No one is excluded forever, and that is the bottom line. Their argument becomes moot when you realize these restrictions are not permanent, but rather meant to ensure those who populate this commission will not have any direct party bias by having served in any official capacity for a brief period of years. I hope the courts will see through their transparent bid to upset the will of the people, and dismiss this suit as having no merit.

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 4:16pm

Great comment. Too bad the article does not make the same points. There will be a NEW INDEPENDENT Commission selected every 10 years. The same people will not be serving forever. It is too bad the republicans are so ready to harrass and throw roadblocks up on a process the voters of Michigan from all over the state supported.

Marlene Augst
Tue, 08/13/2019 - 2:07pm

The proposal as adopted will not work, there is NO WAY you will get people on that board who are NOT partisan, people who are NOT partisan SELDOM get involved in politics. In other states where this has been done there are problems.

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 1:48pm

Like trying to make people who don't care suddenly become interested enough to want to be on this commission, sort of an oxymoron.

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 3:38pm

Can you give some examples of problems experienced by other states where this has been done?

I believe you've misunderstood the point of the commission. The idea is not to find 13 people who are pristinely nonpartisan. As you point out, that's pretty much impossible.

Let's look at the worst case scenario: Somehow, the system is gamed so that every member of the commission is actually a partisan in disguise. To make matters worse, they're all from the same party. In fact, let's just imagine that every single one of them is a paid agent of the same political party. Guess what; that's exactly the system that we just replaced!

The partisan-ness of the commissioners is not the only factor in the amendment. It also requires the redistricting work to be done transparently, and that the commission solicit public comment, something that was never done before under the pure-partisan redistricting framework.

As you can see, the WORST POSSIBLE CASE for the new commission is better than the legacy system.

Geoffrey Owen
Wed, 08/14/2019 - 10:07pm

Wow. 500,000 people can't serve on the commission. Since only 14 people will serve on the commission I guess that everyone else was discrimiated against under the same amendments to the constitution, so screw the majority of voters who saw this as a better way to determine districts than the dragons and horseshoe gerrymandering.