Conservative interest groups say the requirements to be on a “redistricting committee” unfairly exclude overtly biased participants.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is asking a federal court to dismiss a Republican challenge to an anti-gerrymandering initiative approved by voters last fall.
The complaint, writes MLive.com, was filed by 15 conservative lawmakers and Michiganders who are ineligible to serve on redistricting committees. Together, they say that the provisions of the initiative—passed by way of a 2018 referendum—are unconstitutional. And that’s because the policy and its provisions prohibit individuals with partisan affiliations and family connections from serving.
Nessel says redistricting committees must remain strictly non-partisan, to ensure they’re free from bias. Gerrymandering in Michigan has already led to the creation of bizarrely-shaped, nonsensical electoral districts.
As MLive notes, “a Michigan voter is ineligible to serve on the redistricting commission if they were a candidate or elected official, worked as a registered lobbyist or consultant” or worked for a political party or a congressional office in the past six years. Individuals with familial ties to political parties are also not eligible.
“The problem that the people of the State of Michigan sought to address with this amendment was the partisanship with which legislative districts were being drawn, and the solution they chose was to take that power out of the hands of people with a direct interest in the outcome,” Nessel said.
Nessel, who’s representing Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in the suit, likened the prohibitions to jury duty exclusions.
“This is essentially no different than excluding people from jury duty who have a relationship to the parties or have a stake in the outcome of the case,” Nessel wrote.
The lawsuit was filed by the Michigan Freedom Fund, created by what MLive describes as “an associate of the DeVos family.” The DeVos family—among Michigan’s wealthiest—includes Richard DeVos, a former gubernatorial candidate who ran as a Republican. His wife, Betsy, heads the Department of Education under the Trump administration.
According to the so-called Freedom Fund, a half-million Michiganders would be excluded from sitting on redistricting commissions with the current requirements.
“The selection system may actually inhibit transparency, impartiality, and fairness because eligible applicants may be no less partisan than those who fall into the excluded categories,” the Michigan Freedom Fund said in a statement.
The Fund is backed in litigation by the Fair Lines America Foundation, a nonprofit with ties to the National Republican Redistricting Trust—an organization now led by former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R).
Walker has criticized the referendum’s outcome and provisions as fundamentally unconstitutional.
“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 said.
“Michigan’s new redistricting commission falls short of that standard by punishing the people of Michigan for exercising those rights,” he added, “or for being related to someone who has.”