The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held Thursday that Michigan’s redistricting commission can bar people with political connections from serving on the commission.
In 2018 61 percent of Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment that creates a 13-person commission to draw the state legislative districts following the 2020 election. The amendment prohibits officials of political parties, lobbyists, consultants and their relatives from holding positions on the commission. Fifteen people and the Michigan Republican Party filed a lawsuit arguing that the prohibition violates their rights of association and equal protection under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution. The district court dismissed the suit for failing to state a claim, and the plaintiffs appealed to the circuit court.
While the three-judge circuit court panel admitted that the eligibility criteria do discriminate against some individuals on a partisan basis, it noted that the state has a “compelling interest in cleansing its redistricting process of partisan influence.” Two of the judges, Karen Nelson Moore and Ronald Lee Gilman, signed the majority opinion, which held that the eligibility criteria impose only limited burdens on applicants to the commission, and are therefore constitutional. Writing separately, judge Chad Readler rejected the reasoning in the majority opinion but concurred in the judgment, concluding that the court should defer to the “state’s prerogative in organizing its government, including its election system.”
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson called the decision a “victory for democracy.” It is unknown whether the plaintiffs will appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court.