March 20, 2020
Like all email newsletter writers, I strive for the unattainable 100 percent open email rate. However, these were not the circumstances I was hoping for to help make that happen. Best of luck in these trying times and I hope you enjoy learning about the latest in the fight for fair representation.
Defending Against a Junk Lawsuit in Michigan
Michigan Assistant Attorney General Heather Meingast and Paul Smith of the Campaign Legal Center argued on March 17 in defense of Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. They are representing defendants Voters Not Politicians and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, respectively. Listen to the arguments here. In the consolidated cases of Daunt v. Benson and Michigan Republican Party v. Benson, the plaintiffs make the audacious claim that political insiders have a constitutional right to manipulate voting districts for political advantage.
As you might remember, Michigan voters passed Proposal 2 in 2018. This initiative stripped legislators of the power to draw congressional and state legislative districts by creating an independent citizens redistricting commission. The law prohibits political insiders and their close relatives from serving on the commission to ensure that those with a personal and political stake in manipulating districts do not participate in redistricting. The plaintiff-appellants claim that these conflict of interest restrictions violate the 1st and 14th Amendment rights of those prohibited from serving.
Are the plaintiffs asking the court to allow the prohibited individuals to participate on the commission while maintaining the partisan balance, transparency, and nonpartisan standards that govern it? The plaintiffs include or are supported by partisan interests such as the Michigan Republican Party, the National Republican Redistricting Trust, and the ironically named Michigan Freedom Fund, so of course not. The partisan plaintiffs reveal their true intent by asking the court to undo the will of the voters by striking down the commission in its entirety and returning the power to draw districts to self-interested legislators.
The trial judge denied the plaintiffs’ motion to stop the formation of the commission, so the plaintiffs appealed to the Sixth Circuit. As Common Cause detailed in our amicus brief in support of the defendant-appellees, similar reforms in at least eight states and 25 localities with similar provisions would be placed in immediate legal jeopardy if this lawsuit succeeds.
In addition to merits briefs filed by Voters Not Politicians and Secretary Benson and Common Cause’s amicus brief, the League of Women Voters of Michigan and the Brennan Center filed amicus briefs supporting the defendant-appellees. The Leadership Now Project, Issue One, Equal Citizens Foundation, the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, and Represent.US also signed Common Cause’s brief.
Virginia Win and a Potentially Busy Reform Year in the States
In a historic win, the Virginia General Assembly placed a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to create a new 16-person redistricting commission that will give ordinary citizens a voice in the process. The commission will have partisan balance and will include eight non-legislator citizens to serve alongside eight legislators. Learn more about how the commission would work from One Virginia 2021, a leader in the fight for reform.
In 2018, an unprecedented five states passed redistricting reform. This year, reformers could match or even surpass that record total. In addition to Virginia’s constitutional amendment, statewide campaigns to put redistricting reform on the November ballot have already launched in Arkansas, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Oregon.
Entertainment While Under Voluntary House Arrest
For those of you who need entertainment once you conclude a long day of both working from home and leading a homeschool kindergarten class and realizing that teachers are severely underpaid (I might be projecting), I’ve got ideas for you. Starting April 3, you can stream “Slay the Dragon,” a new film about how citizen activists initially passed reform in Michigan. Also in the redistricting section, which I assume is a thing, you can watch “Gerrymandering.” This film tells the story of our own Kathay Feng, her buddy then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and their 2008 fight for reform in California.
If you are instead looking to curl up with a book, you can pick up “Unrigged,” the latest from David Daley. This tells the story of successful work in the states in 2018 to end gerrymandering and to promote voting rights broadly. Whatever you do to keep yourself occupied, be safe, take care, and stay home!