Sixth Circuit Panel Hears Arguments in Attack on Citizen-Led Redistricting

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CINCINNATI – A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit heard oral arguments today in a case that puts at risk voter-approved reforms designed to end gerrymandering in Michigan, which could impact independent redistricting commissions across the country. In the consolidated cases of Daunt v. Benson and Michigan Republican Party v. Benson, the plaintiffs are challenging the constitutionality of a citizens redistricting commission that was passed by an overwhelming majority of Michigan voters in 2018.

“The Michigan Republican Party and other plaintiffs are trying to use the courts to overturn the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission so that politicians can go back to drawing election districts that benefit themselves and political parties – not the voters,” said Nancy Wang, Executive Director of Voters Not Politicians. “Their claims lack merit and we look forward to an end to these wasteful lawsuits.”

Michigan’s redistricting reform amendment makes partisan politicians, lobbyists and other political insiders and their immediate family members, who are likely to have a conflict of interest in drawing district lines to benefit themselves, ineligible from serving on the Commission. The individuals would, like any member of the public, have the ability to engage in redistricting by taking part in the public hearing process.  The plaintiffs argue that these political insiders have a constitutional right to manipulate districts for political advantage.

Paul Smith, Vice President of the Campaign Legal Center stated, “We are proud to present arguments to the court today to protect Michigan’s voter-approved Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission alongside Voters Not Politicians. We hope the court of appeals will reject the attempt by the plaintiffs to use the courts to thwart the will of the people. The fair maps amendment supported by 61% of Michigan voters should be upheld.”

The League of Women Voters of Michigan, the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, Common Cause, The Leadership Now Project, Issue One, Equal Citizens Foundation, The Center For The Study Of The Presidency And Congress, and Represent Us filed amicus briefs in support of the amendment. As Common Cause details in its amicus brief, reforms in at least eight states that exclude similar categories of individuals from drawing districts could be placed in immediate legal peril if the plaintiffs prevail.

“The plaintiffs’ baffling argument manages to defy both the will of Michigan voters and common sense while putting at risk effective measures for stopping gerrymandering that citizens have passed across the country,” said Dan Vicuna, national redistricting manager at Common Cause. “Today the judges demonstrated justifiable skepticism toward the plaintiffs’ shocking and transparently partisan view that the U.S. Constitution requires states to allow self-interested politicians and political operatives to manipulate our voting districts for political advantage.”

On November 25, U.S. District Court Judge Janet Neff rejected the plaintiffs’ requests for a preliminary injunction that would have forced the state to stop implementing the redistricting reform amendment, finding that “Plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail on the merits of their constitutional claims” and that they would not suffer any irreparable harm from the state’s efforts to establish the Commission. The November 25 ruling is the subject of plaintiffs’ appeals. The Michigan Secretary of State is underway with implementation of the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, and has already received 3,000 completed applications with thousands more to process.

An audio recording of oral arguments will be made available by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.