Judge rejects motions in state redistricting case

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published December 17, 2019

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LANSING — A judge recently rejected motions in two lawsuits related to the voter-approved Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

On Nov. 25, U.S. District Court Judge Janet Neff denied plaintiffs motions for preliminary injunction in two lawsuits: one brought forward by the Michigan Republican Party, and another led by Republican activist Tony Daunt.

Daunt was a figure of opposition against the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, part of the anti-gerrymandering Proposal 2 in the November 2018 election. Proposal 2 was ultimately approved by 2 1/2 million, or 61%, of statewide voters.

This case began July 30, when 15 individuals filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s redistricting commission on the grounds of the First and Fourteenth amendments.

They argued that the First Amendment was violated due to eligibility requirements requiring them to refrain from constitutionally protected activities, such as free speech. The Fourteenth Amendment was violated, they said in the lawsuit, due to being denied to serve on the commission as a result of their political activity.

On Aug. 28, Voters Not Politicians — the grassroots organization that led the charge against gerrymandering throughout the 2018 campaign and sponsored the original proposal to create the commission — intervened as defendants.

On Sept. 11, at the request of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, this lawsuit was consolidated with another case challenging the redistricting commission as unconstitutional. Her request was granted the same day.

“The Court, in its discretion, determines that awarding the kind of relief that the Supreme Court has characterized as ‘extraordinary’ and ‘drastic’…is not justified in this case,” Neff said in her 46-page opinion.

One day after Neff’s decision, the plaintiffs appealed in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“An overwhelming majority of Michigan voters cast their ballot to amend our state constitution to bring fair maps to Michigan, yet a small group of politicians and special interests refuse to accept that,” said Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, in a statement. “We look forward to putting these meritless lawsuits behind us and focusing our time and resources on public education and outreach to maximize voter participation in the new redistricting process.”

Paul Smith, vice president of the Campaign Legal Center, added: “The district court judge found a high likelihood that we would succeed in protecting Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. We look forward to standing alongside Voters Not Politicians to ensure that voters’ voices are heard.”

Applications are currently open to serve on the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission and will remain so until June 1, 2020. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced Nov. 19 that 250,000 randomly selected Michigan voters will receive applications to serve on the commission in January 2020.

“The random public selection … is  an important step in the constitutionally mandated process to put citizens in charge of redrawing the state’s legislative districts,” Benson said in a statement. “As the administrator of the application and selection process, I am committed to implementing the will of the voters with transparency and independence at each step, and by inviting the widespread participation of our citizens throughout the process.”

All state residents are encouraged to apply, whether or not they receive a mailed application in January. Visit RedistrictingMichigan.org to apply.