In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s May 22 decision on a North Carolina Congressional/legislative redistricting case (Cooper v. Harris), let’s revisit where efforts stand to ‘reform’ Michigan’s method of dealing with this long-festering issue.
During the past five months, the Detroit Free Press, Detroit News and Bridge magazine have all published articles dealing with two redistricting developments in Michigan.
The first development was an announcement in January by former Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer announcing that he had sent letters to more than 60 individuals announcing that he would soon be filing a lawsuit arguing that the 2011 state House, state Senate, and Congressional redistricting maps are unconstitutional gerrymanders. Brewer’s letters put those individuals on notice not to destroy any records, emails, etc., relating to the 2011 maps.
Nearly five months later, Brewer has yet to file his lawsuit. The only additional development is a “Go Fund Me” page on a Brewer website to cover litigation expenses (such as filing fees and expert witness charges). Brewer evidently plans to fund his legal services by suing the State of Michigan for his billable hours under a Section 1983 action if his lawsuit is successful.
The second development was the formation of a ballot question committee, “Voters Not Politicians,” to collect petition signatures to place a constitutional amendment establishing an Independent Redistricting Commission on the 2018 statewide general election ballot.
This committee has held dozens of workshops on redistricting across the state. “Voters Not Politicians” set a 2017 first-quarter fund-raising goal of $100,000. However, the group apparently raised only about half that much. Little more than $50,000 was raised in the first quarter of this year, and more than half those funds came from the committee’s four top contributors in the following amounts — $10,020; $10,000; $5,000 and $1,000.
Moreover, “Voters Not Politicians” has not filed a petition with the Board of State Canvassers, a step required before it can start its 180-day petition drive. The language and scope of the committee’s proposed constitutional amendment has not been announced. Meanwhile, petition drives by other groups affiliated with the “progressive” Democratic Party agenda are already underway for recreational marijuana and Great Lakes pipeline regulation (Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac). Another effort on LGBTQ civil rights may ensue. And an initiative by conservative/free market building contractors to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law is also underway.
In 2015, the League of Women Voters (LWV) in Michigan held a number of educational forums across the state on redistricting. Then, suddenly, later that year the LWV announced it could not attract enough funding for a petition drive and abandoned the effort.
Brewer’s lawsuit is expected to be modeled after the Whitford v. Gill lawsuit on Wisconsin redistricting that was decided on a 2-1 vote by a three-judge panel last November. That decision held that the 2011 Wisconsin state Assembly redistricting map is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. That litigation is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Bob LaBrant, Michigan’s top court watcher, has noted that the Supremes can summarily affirm, reverse or accept the case for briefing and oral arguments during the 2017-18 term beginning Oct. 2 (see May 23 article in The Ballenger Report).
Best guess right now is that Brewer, the LWV, the Michigan Democratic Party, the “Voters Not Politicians” committee and others who hope to throw out Michigan’s maps — or at least change the way they’re drawn in 2021 after the next census — are waiting to see how the nation’s high bench rules next month on Whitford v. Gill, which may turn out to be the most important decision on redistricting in more than half a century.