Schuette set to fight redistricting proposal in Michigan Supreme Court

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette

Lansing — Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office will argue against a proposal for an independent redistricting commission Wednesday and ask the Michigan Supreme Court to keep the measure off the November ballot.

The state’s highest court on Monday granted Schuette’s request for Solicitor General Aaron Lindstrom to participate in the high-stakes arguments over the Voters Not Politicians proposal.

Lindstrom will get to use five minutes of the 30-minute bloc that had been reserved for attorneys from Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, the opposition group that first asked the Supreme Court to kill the initiative that would redefine the way political boundaries are drawn in the state.

Schuette, who is also a candidate for governor, filed a brief last month arguing the redistricting initiative proposes a revision, "not a mere amendment," to the Michigan Constitution. Revisions require approval through a constitutional convention, not the statewide ballot.

A three-judge Michigan Court of Appeals panel rejected similar arguments in early June, calling them “without merit.” The proposal is “narrowly tailored” to create a 13-member redistricting commission, the panel said in a unanimous ruling appealed to the Supreme Court.

In a recent brief requesting time for oral arguments, Schuette’s office said the high court could benefit from additional focus on the “the distinction” between an amendment and revision “and on the effect the proposal would have on the fundamental aspects of the structure of our government.”

As chief law enforcement officer for Michigan, “the attorney general is responsible for presenting the interests of the people, which includes an interest in preserving the constitution’s distinction between amendments and revisions,” said the brief submitted by Schuette.

As The Detroit News reported Tuesday, the Supreme Court case has major political implications in Michigan, where Republicans redrew political maps in 2011 under current rules allowing whichever party is in charge to control the process.

Democrats aren’t formally endorsing the proposal for an independent commission but regularly complain about alleged GOP “gerrymandering. The state party’s former chairman is the lead attorney in a separate federal lawsuit challenging the fairness of the current maps.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan on Friday filed a brief urging the Michigan Supreme Court to put the Voters Not Politicians proposal on the ballot. The group collected an estimated 394,092 valid signatures for the initiative, which was certified by the Board of State Canvassers in June.

The proposal “plainly does not entail a comprehensive reexamination or recodification of the entire constitution,” wrote ACLU attorneys Andrew Nickelhoff and Mami Kato, dismissing the “general revision” argument.

“The right to amend the constitution by initiative, once granted by the Michigan Constitution, also is protected core political speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

Oral arguments at the high court are set to begin Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. Supporters and opponents will each have 30 minutes to make their case before the court, which has a 5-2 majority of Republican-nominated or appointed justices.  

Justice Kurtis Wilder last week joined Justice Beth Clement in disclosing that the treasurer for their re-election campaigns is married to an attorney fighting the ballot proposal, former Michigan Republican Party general counsel Eric Doster.

The justices both said they did not think the personal connection warranted voluntary recusal, and attorneys for Voters Not Politicians have not asked them to sit out the case.

“Mr. Doster has not been consulted by me, Mary Doster, or my campaign committee for legal advice or anything else related to my campaign,” Wilder said in a statement distributed to attorneys by the Michigan Supreme Court clerk.

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