Federal appeals court allows Michigan independent redistricting commission to proceed News
QuinceMedia / Pixabay
Federal appeals court allows Michigan independent redistricting commission to proceed

The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on Wednesday affirmed the denial of a Republican challenge to Michigan’s new independent commission that will re-draw legislative district boundaries.

In an effort to combat gerrymandering, voters created the commission via ballot initiative in November 2018 with an amendment to the state’s constitution. The commission will be staffed in part by representatives from both political parties and in part by non-party-affiliated officials who cannot be lobbyists, elected leaders or their family members. Republican lawmakers and other plaintiffs who would be ineligible to serve, however, complained that the new rules violated their First Amendment rights. The federal appeals court disagreed and affirmed a lower court’s decision not to stop the commission from moving forward.

The Michigan Republican Party and other plaintiffs raised a series of First-Amendment-based arguments contesting the validity of the constitutional amendment. These included a complaint about how it limited what commission-members can communicate about their work, an assertion that the commission’s structure would discriminate against the plaintiffs’ viewpoints, and a claim that the self-identified party affiliation element of the panel violated their freedom of association. They asked the trial court to issue a preliminary injunction preventing the implementation of the commission pending further litigation. But Judge Janet Neff in the Western District of Michigan denied their request, an order essentially finding that the plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their constitutional claims. The Republican challengers appealed, but the Sixth Circuit agreed with Neff, assessing the plaintiffs arguments one by one and concluding for each that they were unlikely to win.

“[W]e note that the eligibility criteria do not represent some out-of-place addition to an unrelated state program; they are part and parcel of the definition of this Commission, of how it achieves independence from partisan meddling,” wrote Judge Karen Nelson Moore for the majority. The three-judge panel agreed unanimously to affirm the lower court, but Judge Chad Readler, a 2019 Trump appointee, wrote separately in concurrence. “Time and again, the Supreme Court has reminded us to afford appropriate deference to the policy decisions of a sovereign state in structuring its government, including how it seeks to administer elections,” Readler noted. “In upholding Michigan’s decision to organize its system of government through the use of a bipartisan redistricting commission, we honor our nation’s historical deference to a state’s interest in self-government.”