Michigan Gov. Whitmer limits redistricting panel’s use of closed meetings

Michigan Gov. Whitmer's COVID briefing on Dec. 21, 2021

LANSING, Mich. – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday that she signed legislation to prohibit Michigan’s new redistricting commission from citing exceptions under the Open Meetings Act to hold closed sessions.

Her signature last week came days after the state Supreme Court ruled against the panel in a test of a constitutional requirement that it conduct all of its business at open meetings.

The bill sponsor, Republican Sen. Ed McBroom of Vulcan, has said the commission — which was created by a 2018 voter-approved constitutional amendment to draw congressional and legislative maps once a decade instead of the Legislature — should not be able to justify a closed meeting by pointing to the 1976 law.

“The constitution says they have to have open meetings. They’re setting their own policies. The Open Meetings Act is not written for this commission. That’s all we’re trying to be clear about,” he said in early December. Legislators voted nearly unanimously to send the measure to the Democratic governor.

The panel had argued that attorney-client privilege should give it privacy over the Oct. 27 meeting, when commissioners met with the panel's lawyers to discuss two memos, titled “Voting Rights Act” and “The History of Discrimination in the State of Michigan and its Influence on Voting.” The Voting Rights Act requires that people have an opportunity to elect minority candidates.

It was the commission's first meeting after Detroit residents and others criticized how draft plans had no districts where a majority of the voting-age population is Black.

The court, in a 4-3 ruling, ordered the panel to release a recording of the closed session and seven memos sought by news organizations that sued.

Commissioners will meet this week to approve U.S. House, state Senate and state House maps.

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