Michigan GOP sues to stop independent commission redrawing districts

The Michigan Republican Party has filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to block the state from forming a voter-approved independent redistricting commission. 

The party filed the suit in the Western District of Michigan on Thursday to challenge what it has branded the "unfair and unconstitutional" redistricting committee that would draw the state's congressional and district boundaries following the 2020 elections. 

"The US Constitution protects the civil liberties of individuals and political parties, which includes the ability to pick their own representatives. Michigan’s new redistricting committee, as interpreted, by Secretary Jocelyn Benson, will unfairly violate basic constitutional rights and the ability of political parties to choose their representatives," Michigan GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox said in a statement. "This crazy new system will even allow the Democrat party to influence who represents the Republican party on the proposed commission, which on its face violates basic constitutional principles."

"We do not oppose the concept of a fairly designed and implemented redistricting committee, but that is not what this is. Instead this is an assault on the associational rights of political parties."

The complaint was filed less than a year after voters approved Proposal 2, a ballot initiative to give a citizen commission the responsibility of redrawing district boundaries. The state legislature had traditionally drawn the maps every 10 years.

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The proposition also prohibits anyone who ran for office or worked on political campaigns or as a lobbyist within the last six years from serving on the commission. 

Cox told The Detroit News that the amendment to the state constitution could allow fake Republicans to find a way onto the commission. 

“This also gives the Democrat leadership the ability to knock off our people … that are allegedly Republicans that we haven’t even selected,” she said. “So it becomes very problematic that we don’t get to have a role in choosing who’s involved.”

The news outlet noted that no Democrats have objected to the rules regarding the selection of committee members. The proposition said that the panel will include four Republicans, four Democrats and five persons who are not affiliated with either party. 

Applicants will be required to testify under oath if they are affiliated with the Republican or Democratic party, though the rules do not require the state to verify the status of applicants. Michigan does not require voters to register by party, The Detroit News noted.  

The complaint reportedly argues that applicants will be able to self-designate their affiliation with the Republican Party “without any involvement or consent of the applicable political party and without any specific consideration of the applicants’ past or current political activity, expression, or involvement."

A national Republican group helmed by former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) filed a similar lawsuit against the commission last month, arguing that it infringed on 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. 

The suit was filed on behalf of 15 Michigan residents who would be unable to join the commission under its guidelines. 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) said her office would "vigorously" defend Proposal 2 following the initial lawsuit.