Michigan appeals court won’t hear cases questioning redistricting reforms

Michigan Republican Party, citizens question the constitutionality of an independent commission's power to redraw state's district lines

Michigan's congressional districts (National Atlas of the United States)

DETROIT – Michigan’s Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is denying to rehear cases filed by parties questioning the constitutionality of Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Two lawsuits were filed against the new commission, which was established by an anti-gerrymandering ballot initiative in 2018 that gives the independent commission the power to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts -- a power previously held by the Legislature and governor.

One lawsuit was filed by Michigan citizens claiming that the eligibility criteria to serve as a commissioner is unconstitutional. A second lawsuit was filed by the Michigan Republican Party arguing the same as the first lawsuit, in addition to raising “First Amendment allegations regarding the Commission’s selection process, its composition, and its restrictions on the commissioners’ ability to speak publicly about redistricting matters,” the court said.

The plaintiffs appealed the cases after a district court initially denied the motions. The Sixth Circuit Court upheld the district court’s decision in April, and again denied to rehear the cases Friday.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a statement Friday approving the appeals court’s decision.

“Our democracy demands a fair process, not one that’s gamed to give those in power advantages over others,” Nessel said. “(Friday’s) order reaffirms what the courts have already held twice -- that the people’s decision in 2018 to entrust ordinary citizens, and not politicians, with the important task of drawing the district lines within which our leaders are elected, is constitutional.” 

The practice of redistricting has received significant attention this year ahead of the 2020 Presidential Election in November. Voters in numerous states elected to reform the redistricting process in the past to reduce partisan gerrymandering -- which is when a majority party manipulates district boundaries to expand its hold on power. The majority party typically condenses opposing party members into a few districts or spreads them across multiple districts to dilute their influence.

For the first time following the 2020 Census district lines will be drawn by the state’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, which will be comprised of 13 voting citizens: four who identify as Democrat, four who identify as Republican and five who do not identify with either major political party.

Michigan Republicans have previously controlled redistricting following the 2010 and 2000 censuses. They have six of Michigan’s 14 U.S. House districts and hold 22-16 and 58-52 majorities in the state Senate and state House, respectively.

Colorado, Missouri, Ohio and Utah also adopted redistricting reforms in 2018 -- though some lawmakers are pushing back on those reforms amid the 2020 Census. Some groups are pushing for similar reform on the 2020 ballot in Arkansas, Nevada, Oklahoma and Oregon.

MORE: Parties target control of state legislatures, redistricting

Determining who has the power to redraw district lines can largely influence election outcomes. The goal of Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is to level the playing field through bipartisan redistricting.

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.