Michigan Supreme Court Rules Against Redistricting Commission in First Major Lawsuit

Monday’s 4-to-3 ruling means the private memos — along with a recording of the closed-door session — will become public.

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The state Supreme Court is siding against the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

A group of news outlets sued the commission after it discussed memos in secret during an October meeting. The memos covered legal opinions on the Voting Rights Act and historic discrimination.

Lawyers for the commission argued that releasing the memos would violate attorney-client privilege.

Monday’s 4-to-3 ruling means the private memos — along with a recording of the closed-door session — will become public.

MichMash hosts Jake Neher and Cheyna Roth talk with MLive reporter Lauren Gibbons about why several news organizations are suing the commission.


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The Michigan Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week about whether the commission has to release the memos and documents on how it it’s been coming up with these district lines that it’s considering adopting for the state. Several news outlets — the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, Bridge and the Michigan Press Association — filed the lawsuit when the commission refused to give them up earlier this year.

“The lawsuit that’s going on actually has nothing to do with those maps at all,” Gibbons told Neher and Roth before the Supreme Court’s decision came down.

“This is about whether the legal memos that were discussed during a closed session last October should be released to the public. The argument that the media organizations involved is making is that these legal memos, which regarded the Voting Rights Act and voting related discrimination in Michigan, that those should be a matter of public record. The commission is arguing that it’s protected under attorney client privilege.”

“This particular redistricting process, everything about it is precedent setting, right? Because this is the first time Michigan has had a citizens independent panel are drawing the maps and previously it was the legislature.” –Lauren Gibbons, MLive

While the lawsuit itself doesn’t directly impact the map making process, the deadline for voting on the map drafts is coming up. The commission has a vote planned for Dec. 28.

“That said, the schedule could remain in flux,” Gibbons said. “The commission met to consider some more business items. It’s the last scheduled day of the agenda, but there’s still a lot of people who want to make public comments. And so, it’s possible the commission could add a few more meeting dates. They technically still could change the schedule quite a bit, and not stay true to that December 28 date that they were hoping to start getting voted on.”

While the lawsuit won’t have a direct impact on the making of these maps, Gibbons said it could have an impact on setting a precedent in the redistricting process and what is protected under the Open Meetings Act.

“This particular redistricting process, everything about it is precedent setting, right? Because this is the first time Michigan has had a citizens independent panel are drawing the maps and previously it was the legislature,” Gibbons said. “And what ultimately ends up happening will chart the course for future redistricting processes.”

More from MichMash:

Bills to Address Gun Violence Languish in Legislature Amid Calls for Action

Michigan Would Revert to Restrictive Abortion Ban If Roe v. Wade Is Overturned

What We’re Learning As Michigan Redistricting Commission’s First Political Maps Take Shape

Infrastructure Package Could Be Big Boost for Michigan, But Major Challenges Remain

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Authors

  • Cheyna Roth

    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.

  • Colin Jackson

    Colin Jackson is a reporter for Michigan Public Radio Network.

  • Jake Neher

    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.