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. In 2018, Michigan voters passed Proposal 2, which stripped legislators of the power to draw congressional maps and state legislative districts and created an independent citizens redistricting commission. The rules governing Michigan’s commission prohibit current and recent elected officials, political party operatives, lobbyists, their close relatives, and others from serving on the commission. Conflict of interest provisions ensure that those with a personal and political stake in manipulating districts, cannot participate in redistricting. The plaintiffs claim that these restrictions violate the 1st and 14th Amendment rights of those prohibited from serving. They argue that these conflict of interest provisions are so intertwined with the purpose of the commission that the court must dismantle the commission and give the power to draw districts back to self-interested legislators.
Common Cause is standing with Michigan allies such as Voters Not Politicians, a defendant in these cases and the organization that successfully campaigned to pass Proposal 2. A trial court ruled in favor of the defendants, which means that implementation of the commission will continue. On April 15, 2020, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the trial court’s decision. Common Cause filed an amicus brief in support of the defendants in this case. Our brief shows how many state and local reforms would be impacted across the country. See key court filings below.
6th Circuit Victory
On April 15, 2020, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled unanimously in favor of protecting Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.
District Court Victory
On November 25, 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Janet T. Neff denied the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction dismantling Michigan’s commission, stating that the plaintiffs are “are unlikely to prevail on the merits of their constitutional claims.”
Common Cause Amicus Brief
Common Cause wrote and filed an amicus brief in support of the defendants. In our brief, we detail how redistricting reform has evolved over several decades to increasingly exclude political insiders from the process of drawing districts. We also discuss how this lawsuit threatens reforms designed to stop gerrymandering in at least eight states and 25 localities. The Leadership Now Project, Issue One, Equal Citizens Foundation, RepresentUs, and The Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress also signed this brief.
“Some gerrymanders have benefitted Democrats and others have benefitted Republicans, but they share one common characteristic: a nearly total lack of regard for the interests of the People in fair representation.”
Voters Not Politicians Merits Brief
Voters Not Politicians, an intervening defendant in this case represented by the Campaign Legal Center, filed a brief defending the right of Michigan voters to create an independent citizen redistricting commission.
“Appellants’ challenge to the Commission’s disqualification rules fails because the Supreme Court has held that conflict-of-interest rules, which predate the founding, do not even implicate, let alone violate, the First Amendment… an unbroken line of Supreme Court and Sixth Circuit cases holds that candidates for high-level, policymaking positions may be excluded from government service based on their political activities and views.”
Michigan Secretary of State Merits Brief
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is the named defendant in this lawsuit because her office is responsible for administering Michigan’s independent commission.
“And as state officers all commissioners must act in the best interests of the public since an officer cannot be in a position where private interests conflict with public duties or tempt the officer to act contrary to public interest…The ineligibility provisions are intended to avoid this scenario by excluding individuals whose private interests, based on their participation in the political machinery of the State, or their relationship to those who have participated, will conflict with their public duty to draw district lines in an impartial manner, free from undue political influence.