On Wednesday, April 15, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued its anxiously-awaited decision rejecting federal constitutional challenges to the validity of the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission created by the overwhelming approval of Proposal 18-2, sponsored by Fraser firm client Voters Not Politicians (“VNP”), in the November 2018 general election. Fraser Trebilcock's election law team, working with lawyers from the Campaign Legal Center and the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, has successfully persuaded the Sixth Circuit to unanimously affirm the November 2019 decision of U.S. District Court Judge Janet Neff, which rejected all of the constitutional challenges presented in this litigation filed in the federal court last summer by the Michigan Republican Party and a number of individual plaintiffs aligned with its interests.
The amendment of the state Constitution establishing the new Redistricting Commission with responsibility for drawing the boundaries of Michigan’s state legislative and congressional election districts was approved by the voters as a result of an historic campaign by VNP, a non-partisan citizens volunteer movement. The Commission will perform that function in accordance with the new constitutional standards without favoring any political party, candidate or official, and thereby eliminate the practice known to both major political parties as “gerrymandering.”
The unanimous decision of the three-judge appellate panel affirmed Judge Neff’s denial of the plaintiffs' motions for issuance of a preliminary injunction that would have halted the Secretary of State’s implementation of the new Redistricting Commission. The Plaintiffs had alleged that the individual Plaintiffs would be denied their rights under the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by enforcement of the new provisions excluding certain classes of persons subject to potential conflicts of interest from service as Commission members. The Michigan Republican Party asserted that it would be denied its First Amendment right to freedom of association and subjected to improper viewpoint discrimination by the new amendment’s provisions governing the composition of the Commission and selection of its members. In addition, the Plaintiffs contended that the Commissioners would be improperly denied their right to freedom of expression by provisions limiting communications concerning the redistricting process outside of the Commission’s open meetings. Judge Neff’s Opinion rejected all of these objections and concluded that issuance of the requested preliminary injunction was therefore unwarranted.
In a thorough opinion written by Judge Karen Moore and joined by Judge Ronald Gilman, the Sixth Circuit agreed that the Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights were not violated by any of the new provisions in question under any of the potentially applicable legal standards. Judge Chad Readler delivered a separate concurring opinion emphasizing that, “whether a state’s task be district-line drawing or setting the rules for its elections, I (like the majority opinion) am reluctant to interfere with a state’s effort to structure its system of government, to which we owe significant deference, absent the infringement of a dramatic federal interest or a significant violation of constitutional rights.”
“At each level, including the Michigan Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals, our legal team has been privileged to represent Voters Not Politicians, and its efforts, in successful constitutional change that is one of the most basic rights afforded to your citizens”, stated Fraser Trebilcock’s Peter Houk, himself a distinguished retired jurist. Mr. Houk has served with Fraser lawyers Graham Crabtree, Jonathan Raven, and Ryan Kauffman in representing VNP throughout the campaign and the subsequent challenges.