U.S. Court of Appeals upholds Michigan's redistricting commission

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals panel on Wednesday unanimously backed Michigan's new redistricting commission, ruling that the commission's eligibility requirements don't improperly infringe on constitutional rights.

Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote the majority opinion, saying the U.S. Supreme Court has "repeatedly" allowed restrictions aimed at "avoiding partisan conflicts of interests and unsavory patronage practices."

Katie Fahey of Voters Not Politicians speaks to supporters at the Michigan Capitol on May 24, 2018.

About 61% of voters in November 2018 decided that a 13-person commission of Michigan residents should draw the state's legislative district lines instead of the Legislature itself after the 2020 election.

The constitutional amendment barred political party officials, lobbyists, consultants and their relatives from serving on the commission.

Voters Not Politicians, the group that ran the 2018 ballot campaign for the commission, and the Campaign Legal Center, which represented the group in the legal fight, touted the ruling, which upheld a U.S. District Court decision.

“We are pleased with the decision today, which places the interests of Michigan voters first," said Paul Smith of the Campaign Legal Center. "Taking partisanship out of drawing electoral maps is critical to advancing the principle of accountability in government.

Tony Daunt, executive director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, the Michigan Republican Party and others brought the lawsuits. They argued that the conditions for participating in the commission improperly violated individuals' rights to equal protection and freedom of association by preventing certain individuals from serving.

Daunt said his attorneys and team were reviewing the new ruling Wednesday and are going to decide on whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed with the eligibility requirements. Judge Ronald Gilman, who was nominated by former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, signed onto Moore's opinion. Moore was also a Clinton appointee.

They ruled that Michigan's interest in addressing the appearance of "undue influence" permits the state to disqualify "not only active partisans" but also those with recent partisan involvement.

Judge Chad Readler, a President Donald Trump nominee, wrote his own concurring opinion. Using different legal arguments, Readler said he was reluctant to interfere in a state's effort to structure its system of government.

"In upholding Michigan’s decision to organize its system of government through the use of a bipartisan redistricting commission, we honor our nation’s historical deference to a state’s interest in self-government, something the Supreme Court has routinely emphasized in upholding the most analogous state laws to have come before it," Readler said.