Supreme Court rules redistricting commission needs to release recordings, memos from closed session

By: - December 20, 2021 3:33 pm
Michigan's Supreme Court

Michigan Supreme Court, March 22, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

Updated, 3:53 p.m., 12/20/21, with comment from MICRC spokesperson

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) has to release all recordings of its closed sessions and seven legal memos after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the private meeting was unconstitutional. 

The Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, Bridge Michigan and the Michigan Press Association filed a lawsuit against the MICRC earlier this month after the commission refused to release the memos and recordings of a closed session held on Oct. 27.

During the closed session, the commission met with their legal counsel to discuss two memos: “The Voting Rights Act” and “The History of Discrimination in the State of Michigan and its Influence on Voting.” 

In a 4-3 decision, the justices concluded that because the meeting “concerned the adoption of the plans and not any pending litigation, the subject of the meeting constituted the commission’s business and therefore had to be conducted in an open session.”

The majority ruling was decided by Republican-nominated Justices David Viviano, Brian Zahra, Elizabeth Clement and Democrat Justice Richard Bernstein. Democratic-nominated Justices Elizabeth Welch, Bridget McCormack and Megan Cavanagh dissented.

MICRC spokesperson Edward Woods said the commission “is aware of the Michigan Supreme Court decision and is in the process of complying with the order.”

This is the first time in state history that an independent commission has led the redistricting process, which is a result of a 2018 state constitutional measure passed by voters. The 13-member commission consists of four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents. Before then, the Legislature was charged with drawing the maps that would then require the governor’s approval. 

The new panel’s maps will go into effect for the 2022 election and will be in place for 10 years.

In her dissent, Welch said that “the constitution unambiguously affords the commission legal representation and, by depriving the commission of the common-law right to attorney-client and work-product privileges … the majority put its own views above those of the voters.”

Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, said Monday’s ruling “upholds the will of the millions of Michiganders who voted overwhelmingly for a transparent redistricting process.”

The MICRC is set to vote on the final district maps on Dec. 28. 

Disclosure: The Michigan Advance contributed to the Michigan Press Association’s legal fund.

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered 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.