GOP group sues to block Michigan redistricting commission

GOP group sues to block Michigan redistricting commission
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A national Republican group helmed by former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit aimed at blocking a redistricting commission that Michigan voters approved by a wide margin last year.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Grand Rapids, seeks to knock down Proposition 2, which shifted responsibility for redrawing district boundaries from the state legislature to a citizen commission.

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Voters approved the proposition, which amended the state constitution, with 61 percent of the vote in 2018, a margin of almost 1 million votes.

In addition to shifting responsibility for drawing district lines to the commission, the proposition bars anyone who ran for office or worked on political campaigns or as a lobbyist within the last six years from serving on the commission, as well as parents, spouses and children of those who worked in politics. 

The suit was filed on behalf of 15 Michigan residents who would be excluded by those rules, including several prominent Republican officials. It alleges the exclusionary rules violate First Amendment rights of free speech and 14th Amendment rights to equal protection. 

“Every American has the right to peaceably align themselves with a political party (or not), speak into the political process, and petition their government,” Walker said in a statement released by his group, the National Republican Redistricting Trust.

“Any reform, no matter how poorly conceived, must achieve its goals without infringing on the basic rights guaranteed to all of us by the Constitution. Michigan’s new redistricting commission falls short of that standard by punishing the people of Michigan for exercising those rights — or for being related to someone who has,” he said.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D), who won office in 2018, said on Twitter her office would “VIGOROUSLY” defend Proposition 2 and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D), who is named as the defendant in the suit.

Jamie Lyons-Eddy, who directs campaigns and programs for Voters Not Politicians, the group behind Proposition 2, said her legal team was confident the lawsuit would fail.

“It’s no surprise that politicians — who directly benefit from drawing their own election maps and choosing their own voters — want to undermine the voice of voters again. Now that citizens are in charge of a fair, impartial, and transparent redistricting process, we know that some politicians who will lose power to draw maps in secret for their own benefit will make a last ditch effort to hold on to it,” Lyons-Eddy said in a statement.

District boundaries in Michigan have been a point of litigious contention since Republicans drew the current lines in 2011, after winning control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion. A three-judge panel ruled against the current lines earlier this year, though that case died when the Supreme Court declined to weigh in on partisan gerrymandering cases in two other states. 

In that case, Chief Justice John Roberts cited Michigan’s vote to establish a citizen-led commission.

Some legal analysts cast doubt on the plausibility of the argument the Republican groups laid out in court. In an email, election law expert Richard Hasen, of the University of California, Irvine, said the case was based on a different approach than a failed challenge to Arizona’s citizen commission several years ago.

“It seems like really weak argument, unless the bet is that the conservative majority on the Supreme Court is going to expand the First Amendment in new directions,” Hasen said.