Campaign Legal Center (CLC) is representing the grassroots group Voters Not Politicians to try to turn back a legal challenge to the democratically enacted independent redistricting commission (IRC) in Michigan. CLC will present oral arguments in the consolidated cases, Daunt v. Benson and Michigan Republican Party v. Benson on Mar. 17, 2020.
CLC Vice President Paul Smith will be giving oral arguments by telephone to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, after the court granted CLC’s motion out of concern for the spread of coronavirus, which has caused the nation’s federal courts to look for alternatives to in-person hearings.
Michigan’s commission would stop gerrymandering by creating an independent body of 13 members – with four Republicans, four Democrats, and five voters who do not identify with either party – to decide how the state legislative and Congressional districts will be drawn for use starting in the 2022 elections, a task previously handled by partisan actors in the Michigan legislature.
CLC’s argument is that the eligibility requirements for becoming a commissioner are constitutional. The commissioners must respect communities of interest and have no favor for political party in order to take the partisanship out of redistricting and advance the principle of accountability in government. Any citizen who cannot participate as a commissioner can still participate in the redistricting process, whether by participating at public hearings or submitting proposed maps.
Michigan voters in 2018 said loud and clear that they want a say in how their district lines are drawn. That is why 425,000 Michiganders signed a petition, led by Voters Not Politicians to put on the ballot an amendment to create a voter-led commission – designed to establish a new level of transparency in the state’s future redistricting process. The proposal passed with 61% of the vote in the November 2018 election and was enshrined in Michigan’s constitution on Dec. 22, 2018.
While the case remains unresolved, the Secretary of State has moved forward with preparations for the commission. Already, more than 6,000 Michiganders from 82 counties from across the ideological spectrum have applied to serve on the new commission that will redraw Michigan’s political districts after the 2020 census.
Voters Not Politicians was the drafter and sponsor of the constitutional amendment. Throughout the process, the grassroots group relied on CLC to advise on best practices and anticipate pitfalls. Now they are working alongside CLC in the court case to protect the IRC.
Michigan is part of a nationwide movement to take the process of redrawing district lines out of the hands of politicians. Well-designed IRCs offer the best option to help ensure that the map drawing process is more transparent, all Americans’ voices are counted fairly, and politicians are accountable and responsive to constituents.
In the 2018 midterm election cycle, redistricting commissions were implemented by ballot initiative in Colorado, Utah, Missouri, and Ohio. In 2020, ballot initiatives are being considered in Nebraska, Oklahoma and elsewhere.
Public opinion is on CLC’s side. When asked to choose whether boundaries for legislative and congressional districts should be drawn by state legislatures or by an independent redistricting commission, voters polled in a national CLC-commissioned survey favor the latter by a nearly three-to-one margin.