Conservative Group Moves To Block Michigan Gerrymandering Reform

A new lawsuit is trying to block voters from creating an independent redistricting commission.

A conservative Michigan group filed a lawsuit this week to block a November ballot initiative that would create an independent commission to handle redistricting in the state.

The group Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution and two Michigan voters filed the suit in the state’s Court of Appeals. The lawsuit takes aim at an upcoming redistricting initiative that the group Voters Not Politicians has already succeeded in getting on the November ballot

If approved by Michigan voters, the measure would transfer redistricting power from lawmakers to a 13-member independent commission composed of four Democrats, four Republicans and five independents. The ballot proposal, which was launched with a single Facebook post from a Michigan woman, has attracted considerable attention as different groups and activists are pushing to rein in partisan gerrymandering across the country. An analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice found that gerrymandering in Michigan is responsible for an additional two to three additional GOP seats in Congress.

The plaintiffs argue that proposal cannot be approved through a ballot initiative because it amounts to a “general revision” of the state’s Constitution, not an amendment. Such a revision, the group says, can only be accomplished through a state constitutional convention.

“The multitude of changes the VNP Proposal works to the Constitution—including the transfer, limitation, or expansion of powers in all three branches of government—are too disruptive to the original constitutional structures and underpinnings of government to be accomplished by the amendment process,” the group wrote in a Wednesday court filing. “The scale and impact of the VNP Proposal is simply too great for its contents to be summarized for their presentation to voters in the voting booth or petitioner-signers passing a signature gatherer on a public sidewalk.”

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson (R) and the Michigan Board of State Canvassers are named as defendants in the suit. Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution has separately asked the board to reject the petitions to get the measure on the ballot if the court doesn’t issue a ruling by Sept. 6, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Jim Lancaster, an attorney for Voters Not Politicians, the group pushing the reform proposal, disputed that the proposal amounted to a broad revision of the Michigan Constitution.

“Our proposal affects only one aspect of state government: redistricting. It does not interfere with or modify any other aspect of state government,” he said in a statement.

Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution is affiliated with the state’s Chamber of Commerce and has worked to oppose constitutional amendments guaranteeing collective bargaining rights. In addition to receiving money from the Chamber of Commerce’s PAC, it also reported a $50,000 contribution in April from Fair Lines America, a group affiliated with conservative redistricting efforts.