If they can’t beat a ballot issue, they take it to court.

Michigan Republican Party files new federal lawsuit to stop redistricting commission

By Malachi Barrett | mbarret1@mlive.com

LANSING, MI — The Michigan Republican Party filed the second federal lawsuit challenging a voter-approved redistricting commission, arguing the process of drawing political districts will unconstitutionally violate the rights of political parties.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court Thursday, comes days after Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel asked the court to dismiss a separate lawsuit brought against the state by Republicans barred from serving on the commission. The Michigan GOP argues standards set for participants violate its right to freedom of association because political parties are blocked from choosing representatives to serve on the commission.

Sixty-one percent of Michigan voters approved a ballot initiative to amend the Michigan Constitution last November, creating a bipartisan 13-member redistricting commission comprised of four Democrats, four Republicans and five independents. The panel will decide how the state’s House, Senate and Congressional districts will be drawn starting in 2022 elections, a task previously handled by the Michigan legislature and approved by the governor.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs argued the panel will likely feature Republican commissioners who do not represent Michigan Republican Party’s interests. Meanwhile, Democrats have not objected to the process.

“The entire point of Proposal 2 is taking the politics out of our democracy and putting power back in the hands of the people,” said Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes. “That is where Michigan Democrats stand on this and every issue—with the people.”

Michigan Attorney General asks federal court to drop GOP redistricting lawsuit

The Michigan Attorney General asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the new process of drawing political districts.

A Michigan voter is ineligible to serve on the redistricting commission if they were a candidate or elected official, worked as a registered lobbyist or consultant, were an officer for a political party or employed by the legislature in the last six years. Family members of those with political ties are also ineligible.

Applicants must self-designate their party affiliation and testify under oath they meet the qualification standards. Because Michigan does not require residents to register with a political party, attorneys representing the plaintiffs argue there is no way to verify an applicant’s testimony.

“Thus, the proposal disqualifies those individuals who are most easily identified as bona fide affiliates of MRP … leaving MRP (and its affiliated legislative leaders) with almost no reliable means to determine an individual’s true political affiliation,” attorneys wrote.

The constitutional amendment allows party leaders in the Michigan legislature to review finalists who apply to serve on the commission. The state Senate majority leader, state Senate minority leader, speaker of the House, and state House minority leader are each able to strike up to five applicants, adding up to 20 strikes between the four leaders.

The remaining applicants are selected at random to fill the panel with four Democrats, four Republicans and five independents.

Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox said those rules allow Democrats to influence which Republicans serve on the panel.

“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,” Cox said. “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.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Thursday include Cox, and four other Republicans who are precluded from serving on the commission, including state Rep. Hank Vaupel, R-Fowlerville, former Republican Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, Savina Alexandra Zoe Mucci and Dorian Thompson.

A separate complaint was filed in July by 15 residents, including Michigan Freedom Fund Executive Director Tony Daunt, state Sen. Tom Barrett, Board of State Canvassers member Norm Shinkle, Michigan Republican Party officials, lobbyists and political consultants. Plantiffs argued the panel’s selection criteria unconstitutionally punish people for engaging in the political process.

Both lawsuits are backed by the National Republican Redistricting Trust, an organization involved in national redistricting efforts and led by former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

“Democrats and their liberal allies may want Michiganians to be quiet, but I’m confident they’re in this fight for the long haul,” Walker said in a statement.

Voters Not Politicians asks court to intervene in Republican redistricting lawsuit

Republicans are trying to end to a commission that residents put in charge of redrawing political districts in Michigan.

Nessel is representing Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, the named defendant in the case, and filed a brief with the U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids Monday. The a legal brief filed this week asks the court schedule a pre-motion conference to dismiss the complaint, arguing the commission was created to remove partisan bias from political map-making.

“The problem that the people of the State of Michigan sought to address with the amendment was the partisanship with which legislative districts were being drawn, and the solution they chose was to take that power out of the hands of people with a direct interest in the outcome,” Nessel argued in court documents.

Voters Not Politicians also filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit earlier this month, arguing the legal challenge will undermine voter-backed efforts to remove partisan bias.

“Today’s new lawsuit by the Republican Party — which orchestrated a gerrymander “of historical proportions” in 2011 to rig the next decade of elections in our state — is not surprising, but it is a reminder of what’s at stake,” said Voters Not Politicians Executive Director Nancy Wang. “Those who have the most power to lose will do whatever they can to keep hold of it, but we are confident the redistricting amendment will withstand this legal challenge and all others, and that the will of the people will prevail.”

The last maps were created in 2011, when Republicans controlled both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s office. A panel of U.S. District Court judges determined the process was a political gerrymander of “historic proportions” to benefit Republicans in four election cycles spanning eight years.

Republicans appealed the federal judge ruling, but the challenge was killed in June when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled partisan gerrymandering claims aren’t within the court’s jurisdiction.

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