United States District Court Judge Janet Neff on Monday struck down two GOP-brought preliminary injunctions to stop Voters Not Politicians (VNP) from forming the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MIRC).
Neff denied Republican claims that conditions to serve on the redistricting committee were unconstitutional due to First Amendment violations.
One rule prohibited any “partisan candidate” in the previous six years from serving on the MIRC, including elected officials, political appointees, lobbyists, campaign consultants and officers or members of the governing body of a political party, or their immediate family.
Republicans alleged the restrictions punished Americans for serving in government or being related to a “partisan candidate,” which amounted to an equal protection violation.
Jamie Lyons-Eddy, director of campaigns and programs for VNP, previously told The Center Square the exclusions aim to discourage mixed motives.
“For example, if you had someone on the commission who was, let’s say, the spouse of a sitting legislator, they would have a direct interest in how those lines are drawn to try to hold on to their spouse’s job,” she said. “So it’s important to remove the conflict of interest that has caused the gerrymandering we’ve had in the past.”
Neff ruled against the Republican’s equal rights violation claim, writing that the “Plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail on the merits of their constitutional claims” because the plaintiffs don’t "belong to any suspect classification such as race or religion.”
"The eligibility provisions at issue do not impose severe burdens on plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights," Neff wrote in her 46-page opinion. "There is no right to state office or appointment."
VNP applauded the decision.
“Michigan voters amended our state Constitution to establish an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission and bring fair maps to Michigan. The application process to serve on the Commission opened on October 24, and thousands of Michiganders have already applied,” VNP Executive Director Nancy Wang said in a statement.
The Republican groups appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on Tuesday.
“We strongly disagree with yesterday’s decision and are looking at all of our legal options,” Michigan Republican Party Communications Director Tony Zammit told The Center Square in a statement.
The lawsuit stems from an amendment allowing redistricting, approved with 61 percent of the vote in November 2018, aimed to end alleged past partisan gerrymandering from 2011 district maps drawn by a Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature.
Past Supreme Court rulings mean that Michigan's political lines won’t change until the MIRC, a 13-member commission of four Democrats, four Republicans and five independents redraw the lines before the 2022 elections.
Lyons-Eddy previously told The Center Square the new process will be “completely transparent.”
“The amendment calls specifically for all of the work and business the commission does to be conducted in public – so all of their meetings, data, everything they do will be posted publicly,” she said. “It’s required to be really completely transparent, turning the old process on its head. So that everybody in Michigan who has an interest can see exactly how the process is happening.”
The redistricting committee applications are open through June 1, 2020, according to VNP.