Schuette seeks to yank redistricting proposal off ballot

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
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Attorney General Bill Schuette

Michigan's attorney general is seeking to stop a proposal on the November ballot that aims to alter how the state draws political boundaries.

“Because the proposal at issue here makes numerous changes that alter the fundamental division of powers within our government, it proposes a revision, not a mere amendment, and it therefore cannot be accomplished through the petition process,” according to a brief Attorney General Bill Schuette's office filed Friday with the Michigan Supreme Court.

The request came days after the Board of State Canvassers approved the ballot initiative, which contained more than 425,000 signatures that the group Voters Not Politicians gathered. The proposal would create an independent redistricting commission to redraw congressional and legislative maps every 10 years. 

Michigan lawmakers currently redraw legislative and congressional boundaries each decade after the U.S. Census count in a process some critics claim allows the majority political party to “gerrymander” districts for political benefit. 

The state Supreme Court recently denied a request from Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution to delay a Court of Appeals ruling that directed canvassers to certify petitions, although justices have yet to decide whether to take up the case on appeal. 
Attorneys for the opposing group claim the redistricting proposal would rewrite the state constitution, not amend it.

A three-judge Court of Appeals panel unanimously rejected their arguments, calling them "without merit."  Opposition attorneys are asking the Supreme Court to reconsider the case by Sept. 6, the statutory deadline for state certification. Voters Not Politicians seeks a ruling by late July.

In the filing Friday, Schuette asked the Supreme Court to order the Secretary of State and the canvassers board to reject the proposed initiative petition. Among his arguments: the text of the 1963 state constitution distinguishes between an amendment and revision, which require different methods for changes, the Republican gubernatorial candidate asserted.

Schuette also claims that since the proposal "creates a new commission that would wield the legislative, executive and judicial powers together, while at the same time expressly exempting it from the system of checks and balances, it qualifies as a general revision of our Constitution.” 

“Creating one governmental entity expressly authorized to exercise all three types of governmental power makes a fundamental, qualitative change to the structure of our government,” he said in the filing.

Voters Not Politicians' lawyers are reviewing the Schuette brief but “believe that the ‘fourth branch of government’ claim made by the attorney general is without merit," founder and executive director Katie Fahey said Tuesday.

She added: “The 1963 Constitution created an apportionment commission to address redistricting that was free to create legislative districts without the approval of the Legislature or the Governor, and with only limited oversight by the Supreme Court. Our proposal operates in the same way. Clearly, the Voters Not Politicians proposal is consistent with what the voters approved in 1963, and does not create a fourth branch of government.”

Representatives for Schuette could not immediately be reached Tuesday night.

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