Michigan's high court won't weigh in on redistricting delay

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan Supreme Court has denied a request to delay the deadlines for new voting maps in Michigan, opining that the justices' involvement would be pre-emptive and "unwarranted."

Michigan's Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission asked the high court to grant it an extension of the deadline because U.S. Census data that will guide the drawing of the maps is delayed by six months this year. But a majority of the court's justices declined the request.

The official data isn't expected to be available until Sept. 30, 13 days after finalized maps are supposed to be available to the public ahead of a Nov. 1 deadline outlined in the state constitution.

Anticipating legal action because of the unavoidable delay, the commission sought relief from the Supreme Court for a plan that would extend the deadline out to Jan. 25, 2022. The filing deadline for candidates is less than two months later on April 15, 2022.

The commission intends to continue following a draft timeline that would aim for a final vote on completed maps by the end of December "to ensure accuracy and create fair maps through public engagement," commission spokesman Edward Woods said.

Elizabeth Welch

Friday's decision acknowledged the delay "was due to no fault of the MICRC," he noted. 

"We look forward to our ongoing efforts to increase awareness and engagement in Michigan’s new redistricting process," Woods said in a statement.

The Michigan Republican Party called Friday's decision a "huge win" and argued the commission had "ample time and resources" to complete their task by using untabulated, legacy data that should be available in August. 

"This was Jocelyn Benson once again ignoring the rule of law and unilaterally acting on her own to tip the scales for her liberal allies," Party Chairman Ron Weiser said in a statement. "The Supreme Court's decision is a huge win for the rule of law and the people of Michigan."

A statement from Justice Elizabeth Welch included in the decision noted that the commission's position was "difficult and unenviable" but declined to grant relief ahead of an actual violation of the deadline and accompanying lawsuit. 

"By our decision today, we have declined the invitation to clothe the commission or the Secretary of State with any lawsuit-proof vest," Welch wrote. "The risk of future lawsuits — however likely and however inconvenient to the commission's ongoing work — is insufficient reason to justify the relief requested."

Besides, the Democratic-nominated justice wrote, the commission already plans to follow the delayed schedule with or without the blessing of the high court. 

"No matter how the commission chooses to proceed, if its work is challenged then it will ultimately fall to this court 'to determine what are the requirements of the constitution and to define the meaning of those requirements in specific applications.' "