Advance Notice: Briefs

Redistricting panel sued by GOP commissioner for not responding to records request

By: - February 22, 2022 11:51 am

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission holds a public hearing in Lansing. Photo by Anna Gustafson

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) has been sued by one of its own commissioners, Erin Wagner, for not responding to her request for records. 

The Republican commissioner said in a suit filed last week that the commission violated the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by not responding to her request for records regarding the communication between the panel members and attorneys, communication that was not subject to attorney-client privilege, from the months spanning October to December 2021. 

Wagner made her request on Dec. 23 and said that the MICRC failed to respond to whether it would deny or accept her request for the records within 15 business days, which the FOIA law would require them to do. 

Wagner’s claim called for the records to be disclosed, and that $1,000 be awarded for damages caused by violating the Freedom of Information Act and to pay for attorney fees. 

Edward Woods III, spokesperson for the MICRC, told the Advance in a statement that “the MICRC is saddened to hear about the lawsuit filed by Commissioner Erin Wagner” and that they “look forward to addressing her claim amicably.”

This is the first time that the MICRC was charged with drawing new districts for the state House, state Senate and Congress, which are to go into effect for the 2022 elections. Michigan voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 establishing the panel composed of four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents. Previously, the Legislature was responsible for redistricting and the governor would sign off on maps.

The lawsuit by Wagner comes after the Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, Bridge Michigan and the Michigan Press Association sued the MICRC in December over the commission’s decision to not release seven legal memos and recordings of a closed session that took place on Oct. 27. The Michigan Supreme Court decided 4-3 that the meeting should have been an open session since it was about the adoption of plans and not about any litigation, and mandated that the memos and recordings be released. 

There have also been three cases brought against the MICRC regarding the maps they released. The first suit was filed by the Detroit Caucus, a group of Black metro Detroit state House and Senate members, and claimed the new redistricting maps would disenfranchise Black voters and violated the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA). The lawsuit was rejected by the Michigan Supreme Court earlier this month in a 4-3 decision. 

The second lawsuit challenging the MICRC’s redistricting maps came from seven Michigan Republicans who asserted that the congressional maps were “non-neutral,” “arbitrary,” and scrapped community boundaries.

The third lawsuit was filed earlier this month by a coalition of voting rights organizations who said the Michigan House maps were politically unfair and gave an advantage to Republicans. 

Disclosure: The Michigan Advance has contributed to the Michigan Press Association for its lawsuit.

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Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.