DETROIT – The Michigan Supreme Court on Monday ordered the state's new redistricting commission to release a recording of a closed October meeting as well as certain documents sought by news organizations.
The 4-3 decision, with a Democratic justice joining three Republicans, was a test of whether a commission creating maps for the Legislature and Congress violated a law requiring it to conduct business in public.
The commission had argued that attorney-client privilege should give it privacy over the Oct. 27 meeting. The court's majority, however, noted that there was no litigation pending at the time.
“Indeed, allowing the simple prospect of litigation to shield the commission’s discussions on how to make a map would threaten to swallow the open-meeting requirement altogether,” Justice David Viviano wrote.
Voters in 2018 created the commission through an amendment to the state constitution, taking the job of mapmaking out of the hands of politicians. More than 130 hearings have been open to the public.
The commission will meet Dec. 28 to vote on final maps. There are four U.S. House options, three state House options and three state Senate options that were collaboratively drawn.
The lawsuit was filed by The Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press, The Center for Michigan Inc./Bridge Michigan and the Michigan Press Association.
In a dissent, Justice Elizabeth Welch said attorney-client privilege is a “fundamental commitment of our legal system.” She noted that the seven memos that must be released were not read by the Supreme Court.
“The loss of attorney-client and work-product privileges undermines the commission’s independence,” Welch said. “The commission’s need for sound legal advice is no different than that of every other governmental board and body in Michigan.”
Welch was joined by Chief Justice Bridget McCormack and Justice Megan Cavanagh. Justices Richard Bernstein, Brian Zahra and Elizabeth Clement joined Viviano's majority opinion.
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