In a preview of the coming war over redistricting reform, Republican politicians and operatives in Michigan filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the state’s new, voter-approved redistricting commission.
Behind the lawsuit is Fair Lines America Foundation, which, according to the Detroit News, is affiliated with the Scott Walker-led National Republican Redistricting Trust.
The Republicans allege that the independent commission violates the Constitution’s First Amendment and its Equal Protection Clause by imposing certain requirements on who can serve on the commission. Specifically, individuals cannot serve on the 13-member commission if they, in the past six years, were partisan candidates, elected officials, political appointees, lobbyists, campaign consultants or political party officials.
“Plaintiffs have been excluded from eligibility based on their exercise of one or more of their constitutionally protected interests,i.e., freedom of speech (e.g., by the exclusion of candidates for partisan office), right of association (e.g., by the exclusion of members of a governing body of a political party), and/or the right to petition (e.g., by the exclusion of registered lobbyists),” the lawsuit alleged.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who is in charge of certain administrative tasks in running the commission, is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
“Any reform, no matter how poorly conceived, must achieve its goals without infringing on the basic rights guaranteed to all of us by the Constitution,” Walker, the former Wisconsin governor who is NRRT’s finance chair, said in a statement, according to the Detroit News.
Conditions like the ones imposed for serving on the Michigan commission are fairly common among independent redistricting commissions across the country.
The new GOP lawsuit alleges, however, that not only are the requirements unconstitutional, but that they are not severable from the rest of the commission — meaning that the whole commission should be dismantled if the prohibitions on commissioners are found to be illegal, according to the Republicans’ arguments.
That claim is at odds with the text of ballot initiative itself that 61 percent of Michigan voters last year approved. “Any provision held invalid is severable from the remaining portions of this Section,” the initiative text said.
The lawsuit is, nonetheless, one of many that will likely be filed before the next round of redistricting designed to stop the gains that anti-gerrymandering advocates have made in implementing independent commissions across the country.
With the Supreme Court ruling last month that federal judges cannot rein in partisan gerrymandering, voting rights advocates will be only expanding their efforts to implement redistrict reform via independent commissions.
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the conservative majority in the case, name-checked Michigan’s ballot initiative specifically to argue that there other avenues besides the federal judiciary to address the problem of extreme gerrymanders.
How his court will handle the coming wave of lawsuits challenging those commissions remains to be seen.
Read the new Michigan lawsuit below: