The Michigan Supreme Court ruled 4-3 giving a bipartisan citizen commission control of drawing political boundaries to go onto the November ballot. What does that decision mean for Michigan going forward?
Michigan joins a national trend
Residents of several other states, including Colorado, Utah and possibly Missouri, will be voting in November on measures to make the drawing of political maps less partisan. Ohio residents voted overwhelmingly to approve redistricting reform in May. California voters approved a citizen commission a decade ago. You can read about their experience here.
Fears of partisanship on the Michigan Supreme Court were overblown
Justices, like all judges, are supposed to be nonpartisan, weighing decisions based on their understanding of the law, not their political inclinations. And the average voter wouldn’t know otherwise ‒ there are no party labels next to Michigan Supreme Court candidates’ names, and the candidates are listed on the “nonpartisan” section of the ballot along with ballot proposals.
Related Michigan gerrymandering stories:
- Michigan Supreme Court votes 4-3 to keep redistricting proposal on ballot
- Michigan politicians, others react to Supreme Court redistricting decision
- How a shadow Republican group gerrymandered Michigan – sparking a backlash
- Maps show how gerrymandering benefitted Michigan Republicans
- These Republican insiders split $1 million to design and defend Michigan 2011 map
- California’s redistricting commission has some free advice for Michigan
- Emails suggest Republicans gerrymandered Michigan to weaken ‘Dem garbage’
But the legal battle over the Voters Not Politicians ballot measure exposed the tremendous partisanship inherent in Michigan’s system for selecting Supreme Court candidates, in which candidates are nominated by political parties. Republican-backed justices hold a 5-2 advantage on the high court. And they share something beyond party affiliation: The Republican justices and the committee that organized the legal challenge to the VNP ballot measure were both financially backed by the Republican-leaning Michigan Chamber of Commerce. Yes, the very chamber that, as Bridge has reported, was apparently neck-deep in the naked gerrymandering of Michigan legislative districts back in 2011 to protect Republican candidates.
But those partisan and financial connections didn’t stop two of the five justices appointed or nominated by Republicans ‒ David Viviano and Elizabeth Clement ‒ from joining two Democratic justices in voting to keep the measure on the ballot. Clement’s vote could be considered particularly bold, coming weeks before she was set to be nominated by the Republican Party for election this fall.
October update: Michigan’s Republican black-sheep justice is winning some unlikely allies
Update: Amid jeers, Michigan Republicans select a supreme court justice who strayed
Related: Will Michigan Republicans take down Justice Clement? If so, here’s how.
That was a battle, not the war
Expect the Michigan Republican Party and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce to pull out all the stops to try to defeat what will now be known primarily as Prop 2 on the November ballot. Many Republicans view the measure as a Democratic ploy to redistrict in their favor, or at least redistrict in a fashion that does not favor Republicans, such as the current map drawn by the GOP in 2011 does. Voters Not Politicians is already on the air with a 60-second TV and online ad supporting the ballot measure. By November, the total spent by opponents and supporters will likely be between $7 million and $15 million.
A clear way to distinguish between candidates for governor.
Republican candidates have spoken out against the ballot measure. Democratic candidates support it. There’s not much doubt where Bill Schuette stands: The current attorney general and leading Republican candidate for governor heading into the Aug. 7 primary had his office appear at the Supreme Court to argue that the proposal should be thrown off the ballot. The leading Democratic candidate, Gretchen Whitmer, has been equally clear that she believes redistricting should be taken out of the hands of partisan legislators.