Federal appeals court again upholds Michigan's new redistricting commission

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals again ruled this week in favor of Michigan's new independent redistricting commission, determining requirements that bar some individuals with political connections from serving on the panel are constitutional.

The three-judge decision is another setback for Republicans who have sought to undo the commission, which has already begun the process of redrawing U.S. House and state legislative district lines in Michigan ahead of the 2022 election.

"Michigan’s compelling interest in cleansing its redistricting process of partisan influence justifies the limited burden that the amendment imposes," wrote Judge Karen Nelson Moore.

Supporters of an initiative to create an independent redistricting commission gather outside the Michigan Supreme Court on July 18, 2018

Moore and Judge Ronald Lee Gilman, two appointees of former President Bill Clinton, signed onto the majority opinion. Judge Chad Readler, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, wrote a concurring opinion, saying the restrictions for serving on the commission were Michigan's determinations as a form of self-governance.

They don't "implicate core constitutional interests," Readler said.

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 after the 2020 election.

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

Tony Daunt, the former executive director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, and others brought the lawsuit. They argued that the conditions for participating in the commission improperly violated individuals' rights to equal protection and freedom of association.

On Friday, Daunt said he and others will be discussing their options next week on whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 6th Circuit issued a similar ruling in April 2020 on a motion for a preliminary injunction. The new decision was spurred by a district court's dismissal of the case.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, two Democrats, touted the new ruling as a "victory for democracy."

“This decision reaffirms what we have said all along — the people’s decision in 2018 to entrust ordinary citizens, and not politicians and political operatives, with the important task of drawing the district lines within which our leaders are elected, is constitutional,” Nessel said.  

Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, the group behind the 2018 redistricting ballot proposal, said the 6th Circuit had upheld the will of Michigan voters.