Independent redistricting commission considers hiring GOP-tied law firm

By: - August 9, 2021 5:14 pm

A protestor demonstrates during a Dec. 12, 2018, rally in the Capitol | Ken Coleman

Updated, 11:15 a.m., 7/10/21, with new comments from Nessel’s office

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) announced Friday that it will be interviewing a Washington, D.C.-based law firm with GOP ties to represent the commission as its legal counsel.

MICRC spokesperson Edward Woods III said the commission submitted two requests for proposal, but only heard back one from one law firm — BakerHostetler. 

“The MICRC is considering Mark Braden and Baker Hostetler for litigation counsel,” Woods said. “We sent out two requests for litigation counsel. Unfortunately, no one responded the first time, and they are the only firm that responded this time. As always, we welcome and consider public input in making our decisions openly and transparently.”

Braden, of counsel at BakerHostetler and former chief counsel to the Republican National Committee, has a controversial past with litigating matters around redistricting. 

In 2019, Braden defended Republican legislators in North Carolina after they allegedly deceived a panel of federal judges about whether they could redraw new House and Senate lines for the 2017 elections. Braden and BakerHostetler also defended gerrymandered districts in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia. 

The role of the litigation counsel would be to represent the commission in court to defend the panel’s maps. 

Julianne Pastula, MICRC general counsel, said that the commission would want to consider involving the law firm, if it is accepted by the commission, “even sooner than after the maps are adopted to provide litigation support.”

In 2018, voters approved the MICRC, which is in charge of drawing the state’s new U.S. House and state House and Senate district lines for the next 10 years. They will go into effect for the 2022 elections. The Legislature was previously charged with drawing district lines, with the governor signing off on legislation.

One of the main goals of establishing the MICRC was to keep politics out of the redistricting process and avoid gerrymandering to favor certain politicians or parties. The panel is composed of four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, tweeted on Monday: “Friendly reminder that Michigan’s Independent Redistricting Commission is just that – independent.”

However, Benson’s office declined to comment on the MICRC considering BakerHostetler for litigation counsel. 

Attorney General Dana Nessel spokesperson Lynsey Mokumel said that the “[Michigan Department of Attorney General] does not have the staffing or expertise to provide” litigation counsel for the MICRC.

As of right now, the bipartisan commission in Michigan doesn’t have other options other than a law firm with ties to the Republican Party. 

“It’s not like people are beating down our doors to work with us,” said Commissioner Steve Lett during a meeting last week. 

But he’s confident that BakerHostetler is “well-qualified to handle any litigation that we might have.”

The commission plans to interview the law firm on Thursday and then the commission will vote on whether or not to retain it.  

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.