Plaintiffs challenge Mich. redistricting panel’s independence

The release of emails in the gerrymandering lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters spurred Michigan residents to strip their legislators of redistricting duties and turn the mapmaking over to an independent commission.

However, a new federal lawsuit is challenging the new body, asserting the exclusion of certain individuals violates the First and 14th amendments.

The complaint, Anthony Daunt, et al. v. Jocelyn Benson, in her official Capacity as Michigan Secretary of State, 1:19-cv-00614, was filed at the end of July, along with a motion for preliminary injunction, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. Among the plaintiffs are a registered lobbyist agent, a candidate for Michigan House of Representatives, elected officials and a consultant to a candidate for public office.

Removing partisan influence from the redistricting process was the intent of the “Voters Not Politicians” proposal. Michigan voters approved an amendment to their state’s constitution in November 2018 creating the 13-member independent redistricting body.

The proposal gained support after a series of emails came to light in a separate lawsuit that was challenging Michigan’s electoral maps as extreme partisan gerrymandering. In that case, League of Women Voters of Michigan, et al. v. Jocelyn Benson, et. al., 2:17-cv-14148, the Faegre Baker Daniels team, which was representing the plaintiffs pro bono, uncovered numerous emails sent between the mapmakers and state officials that detailed their actions and motives.

In one email in particular, Jack Daly, chief of staff to incumbent Republican Rep. Thad McCotter, gloated over the packing of minority party voters into a handful of districts. Daly called the mapmaking “a glorious way that makes it easier to cram ALL of the Dem garbage in Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland, and Macomb counties into only four districts.”

Click here to learn how partisan gerrymandering cases may shift from federal to state courts.

The commission prohibits members from being connected to partisan activities or organizations. Individuals excluded from serving include elected officials, candidates for office, people who have run for elected office, paid consultants, employees of an elected official or candidate, lobbyists, and politically appointed state employees.

Plaintiffs claim they are being excluded for exercising their constitutional rights. Moreover, they contend the commission is not designed to be impartial. Rather it is meant to bring together a variety of viewpoints from across the political spectrum.

“That prohibiting Plaintiffs’ participation is somehow constitutionally justified because it would undermine the ‘impartiality’ of a Commission that necessarily includes a variety of views, including self-declared partisan ones, is unsupportable,” the plaintiffs argue. “There is no compelling explanation as to how Plaintiffs’ participation would result in a Commission with less impartiality than a Commission that includes individuals who hold political views that are just as strong, or even stronger, but do not happen to belong to one of the excluded groups.”•

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