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Update: Group opposed to redistricting ballot asks MI Supreme Court for ruling

Update, June 13 at 10:30 a.m.:

The group Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution has filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court and asked the justices to put an immediate hold on the lower court decision that would place the question on the November ballot.

The court asked the Supreme Court to act before the Board of State Canvassers schedules its next meeting to comply with the order. Now, it’s up to the Supreme Court justices to decide whether to grant the motion while they decide whether to take the case, or let the question go to the ballot.

Original post, June 11 at 9:00 a.m.:

The Michigan Supreme Court is about to have a political hot mess dumped on its lap. The court will decide whether voters will vote on an overhaul of how Michigan draws legislative and congressional districts.

The group Voters Not Politicians has submitted some 425,000 petition signatures to get the question about amending the state constitution before voters in November.

Currently, in Michigan, redistricting is done by the state Legislature. It’s been controlled by Republicans for the last twenty years. The Voters Not Politicians campaign wants the job to go to an independent commission.

But first, the Board of State Canvassers - the group that OKs putting questions on the ballot - has to approve it. The question has been held up for weeks by the board’s Republican chair. He won’t put the question on the board’s agenda without a court ruling.

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that the ballot question does in fact meet the legal requirements. And, moreover, that the four-person, bipartisan board should approve the question for voters to decide in November.

But the challengers say they plan to take the question to the Michigan Supreme Court. And that puts two Supreme Court Justices in an awkward position.

In Michigan, political parties nominate candidates for the state Supreme Court. And the parties and their allies spend a lot of money on these court races because there’s a lot at stake - like, at this moment, the redistricting question.

Republicans and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce have formed a group to oppose the redistricting ballot drive. They know their best bet to beat it is to stop it from reaching the ballot in the first place.   

Their last, best chance now lies with the Supreme Court, which has a five to two Republican majority. Two of these Republicans are up for election this year, and they’re getting campaign money from an influential group that’s also opposed to the redistricting ballot question.

Craig Mauger, with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, lays out the details in a piece published this past week in Bridge Magazine.

Mauger explains how the committee challenging the redistricting proposal has received $185,000 from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is also raising money to support the November election of Republican Supreme Court Justices Kurtis Wilder and Beth Clement.

But, before that, Wilder and Clement must be nominated by partisan delegates at a state Republican convention. If they don’t rule to block the redistricting question, they face a risk of alienating conservative delegates.

Now, judges can recuse themselves from cases where they have a conflict, or might appear to have a conflict, but it’s each justice’s own decision to step aside. Justices almost never do and, it seems, it’s unlikely to happen here where every justice has some level of partisan interest.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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