Michigan Republicans sue to stop redistricting commission


A group of Republican party members and elected officials are trying to put an end to a commission that voters put in charge of redrawing political districts in Michigan.

Lobbyist Tony Daunt and 14 other Republicans filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court against Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, claiming the restrictions on who can serve on the commission are unconstitutional.

At stake is the heart of Proposal 2, a voter-approved Constitutional amendment that shifts the responsibility of drawing Michigan’s state and federal political districts every 10 years to a 13-member independent redistricting commission. The commission is made of five independent members, four self-declared Democrats and four self-declared Republicans.

There are limits to who can serve on the commission — which the lawsuit argues violate the First Amendment of the Constitution, on the grounds that political belief and association are considered to be protected free speech in a legal precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Within the past six years, redistricting commission members cannot have been a candidate for a partisan office, an elected official to a partisan office, an officer or member of a governing body of a political party, a paid consultant or employee of an elected official or political candidate or their campaign, an employee of the legislature, a registered lobbyist. Parents and children of individuals that meet these restricted categories are also barred from participating in the commission.

All 15 plaintiffs named in the lawsuit state they are interested in serving on the commission but are prohibited from doing so.

Daunt has been a registered lobbyist since 2013, is a member of the Clinton County Republican Party and is a member of the Michigan Republican Party governing body. Other plaintiffs include State Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte; Kathy Berden, national committeewoman of the Republican Party; and Linda Lee Tarver, a voting member of the Michigan Republican Party’s central committee and president of the Republican Women’s Federation of Michigan.

“Voters spoke loud and clear last November that they want an independent, citizen-led commission – not partisan politicians – responsible for drawing district lines. My office will stay focused on engaging the public and encouraging full participation in a transparent application and random selection process for this commission, which has the opportunity to map Michigan’s future,” Benson said in a statement.

There is a June 1, 2020, deadline for applicants interested in serving on the commission to apply. Benson said having several hundred thousand applicants isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Currently, Benson’s office is seeking public comment on draft application language and eligibility guidelines, which can be viewed in full on the state’s redistricting website. The full commissioner application is expected by this fall.

Jamie Lyons-Eddy, director of Campaigns and Programs for Voters Not Politicians — the group behind Proposal 2 — called the lawsuit a “last ditch” effort by politicians to hold on to power.

“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,” Lyons-Eddy said in a statement. “We’re confident that the proposal will survive any and all legal challenges, just as it did from many of these same politicians on the way to the ballot.”

Proposal 2 fought its way through multiple legal challenges backed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Republican Party on its way to the November 2018 ballot. Ultimately, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the proposal did not negatively impact the powers of the three branches of government and was not a revision of the state’s Constitution — allowing the issue to be decided by voters. The issue passed with 61 percent of the vote.

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