Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during a press conference at Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park on June 14, 2021 | Ken Coleman photo
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told the Advance in a phone interview Wednesday morning that she believes the Michigan Supreme Court ruled correctly this week on a case brought by media organizations against the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC).
After a 4-3 decision Monday — with three GOP-nominated justices and one Democratic-nominated justice in the majority — that a closed-door Oct. 27 meeting was unconstitutional, the panel had to release all recordings of its closed sessions and seven legal memos.
The Advance asked Whitmer, who’s an attorney, if she supported the Supreme Court decision. The Democratic governor responded, “Yes.”
The MICRC was born from a 2018 constitutional amendment spearheaded by Voters Not Politicians to overhaul the state’s decennial redistricting process, which was previously helmed by the Legislature and signed off on by the governor. Now the 13-member commission is charged with drawing lines for the state House, state Senate and Congress and consists of four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents.
The commission is set to vote Dec. 28 on maps that will go into effect for the 2022 election and will be in place for 10 years.
During a closed session in October, the commission met with its 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.” Afterward, the Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, Bridge Michigan, and the Michigan Press Association filed a lawsuit against the panel.
When the Advance asked Whitmer if she thinks there’s been a problem with transparency with the redistricting commission, she said, “Well, Voters Not Politicians, one of their core reasons for organizing and going to the people [with a 2018 ballot measure] and changing how redistricting was done in Michigan was because of the lack of transparency when the Legislature was doing it [redistricting] and the gerrymandering that occurred as a result.
“So the irony of this new way of doing things needing to be fereted it out in court is not lost on anyone, I don’t think,” Whitmer added. “But I do think that the decision was right. And I do think that this is an important moment. And we’re not done with this process — and I’m not quite sure what turns it’s about to take because of this. But I do think we all have a right to know … what they were doing. That was the whole reason for amending the Constitution in the first place.”
In November, Attorney General Dana Nessel, who’s also a Democrat, issued a formal legal opinion finding that the Oct. 27 closed meeting likely should have been an open meeting.
“The Commission is tasked with developing and adopting new districts that will no doubt change the makeup of our elected legislators,” Nessel said at the time. “It remains imperative that such a monumental responsibility be conducted in a public forum. The citizens of this state are owed a transparent process and the Commission must do its best to meet that expectation.”
The MICRC released the memos and meeting recording on Monday, as the Advance previously reported. During the meeting, the commission’s voting rights lawyer, Bruce Adelson, cautioned the MICRC not to use “phrases about adding Black people, subtracting Black people, adding white people, subtracting white people” from districts.
“When phrases like that are used, it just ostensibly rockets up to the top and gives people the ammunition that they’re looking for,” Adelson said.
MICRC Chair Rebecca Szetela, an independent, said at a Tuesday press conference that the commission is still confident that the public trusts its process.
“I certainly hope the public hasn’t lost trust, and I don’t think most of the public has,” Szetela said. “We are continuing to receive feedback from the public, robust feedback on our website, hundreds of comments that keep flowing in. So the fact that that’s occurring tells me the public hasn’t lost trust in us and respects this process, and that they know that we are working very hard and very diligently to come up with fair maps in a transparent manner.”
The Advance will have more from the interview with Whitmer in future editions.
Disclosure: The Michigan Advance contributed to the Michigan Press Association’s legal fund for the case.
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