Campaign Legal Center Joins Michigan’s Fight to Protect Citizen-Led Redistricting Commission
CLC is serving as co-counsel with Voters Not Politicians
GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. – A federal district court today has granted Campaign Legal Center (CLC)’s motion to intervene in two lawsuits over the state’s newly enacted Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission. CLC and Michigan law firm Fraser Trebilcock are representing Voters Not Politicians (VNP), a citizen-led, volunteer organization that collected over 425,000 signatures from voters in just 110 days. The constitutional amendment to create a voter-led commission – designed to establish a new level of transparency in the state’s future redistricting process – passed with 61% of the vote in the November 2018 election and was enshrined in Michigan’s constitution on Dec. 22, 2018. VNP now seeks to preserve that victory.
“Michigan voters in 2018 said loud and clear that they want a say in the way their district lines are drawn,” said Paul Smith, vice president at CLC. “We are proud to join Voters Not Politicians in the fight to protect Michigan’s democratically-enacted Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, a reform that will take the political incentives out of the redistricting process. There is unprecedented energy across America behind the movement to take back redistricting power so that voters are choosing their elected officials and not vice versa. When citizens have a chance to take democracy into their own hands, they have consistently supported measures to end partisan gerrymandering.”
The first lawsuit, Daunt v. Benson, was filed by 15 plaintiffs on July 30, 2019. Backed by the Fair Lines America Foundation, a nonprofit with ties to the National Republican Redistricting Trust, the plaintiffs are challenging the constitutionality of the provisions that disqualify partisan candidates, political party leaders, paid political consultants, employees of the legislature, lobbyists, certain political appointees and immediate family members of the people listed above from serving on the commission.
A new legal challenge, Michigan Republican Party v. Benson, was filed on Aug. 22, 2019. It argues that various provisions of the amendment interfere with the party’s freedom of association and other constitutional rights because they are not able to select the commissioners who represent their party.
Both lawsuits claim that the amendment violates the First and Fourteenth Amendment. They have been assigned to the same judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
"We are proud to welcome national redistricting experts Paul Smith and the Campaign Legal Center to our team. Since its founding, the Campaign Legal Center has been part of every landmark democracy case," said Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians. "With the federal courts unwilling to rein in extreme partisan gerrymandering, attacks against voter-led redistricting reforms like ours in Michigan will be the next critical battleground. With Paul Smith and the Campaign Legal Center on board to complement our Michigan counsel, I have no doubt we will prevail and the will of the people will be upheld."
If the commission is upheld in court, an independent body of 13 members – with four Republicans, four Democrats and five voters who do not identify with either party – will decide how the state legislative and Congressional districts will be drawn for use starting in the 2022 elections, a task previously handled by the Michigan legislature and enacted by the governor.
In its decision on June 27, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court failed to set a standard for partisan gerrymandering and ruled that it is up to the states to decide how they will redistrict. The Michigan amendment passed by VNP was mentioned as an example of how citizens can successfully take control of drawing election maps. A poll released earlier this year shows that at least 60% of Democrats, Republicans and Independents support the creation of independent commissions. VIDEO: Learn more about independent commissions.