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Michigan redistricting commission meets in private again; prior closed-door session sparked lawsuit

Michigan's new congressional district map was approved by the Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission.
Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission
Michigan's new congressional district map was approved by the Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission.

Michigan’s redistricting commission met again behind closed doors Thursday -- despite a state Supreme Court ruling that a previous closed session was inappropriate and should have been open to the public.

Julianne Pastula, the commission’s general counsel, said this time was different, because the commission was now responding to active litigation, rather than discussing map-making, as it was in the case heard by the court.

“And the legal team, I want to be very clear, needs to have this discussion today because we have court deadlines that we need to meet. The purpose of this closed session would only be to discuss the legal strategy in moving this case forward,” Pastula told commissioners ahead of Thursday’s vote to move a portion of the meeting to a private session.

The state’s Open Meetings Act says most government meetings have to be open to the public. But it does lay out some exemptions that allow private meetings.

The redistricting commission previously used those exceptions as justification to meet in private. But a law passed after the commission’s first private meeting sparked controversy says those exemptions don’t apply to the redistricting group.

State Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah Twp) sponsored that legislation. He said he believes the commission needs to set clear rules for when closed-door meetings are appropriate.

“If they’re going to start doing these closed sessions, then what are the rules they’re following, what’s the parameters they’re going to follow, so that we can understand what’s the justification,” McBroom said.

The state Supreme Court ruling that found the first closed session should have been open to the public did leave the door open for some circumstances where meeting in private would be okay.

Attorney Kurtis Wilder represented news outlets who sued over the the private meeting. He agreed with Pastula, the attorney for the commission, that Thursday’s closed session was allowable because it discussed legal strategy, not map-making.

“I believe that that is entirely consistent with the Supreme Court’s opinion as well as with the constitution,” Wilder said.

The commission adopted final legislative maps late last month but now faces a legal challenge.

A group of Detroit lawmakers has filed suit, saying the maps disenfranchise Black voters.

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