State Rep. Gary Howell during a House recess Wednesday, May 8, 2019 | Michael Gerstein
State Rep. Gary Howell (R-North Branch) has requested Attorney General Dana Nessel’s legal opinion on whether the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) followed requirements set out in the state Constitution when drawing new legislative district lines.
Howell is concerned that Lapeer County, which he represents, would be split across three districts in the state House and two districts in the state Senate under the maps approved in December by the redistricting commission. They will go into effect for the 2022 elections and be in place for the next 10 years.
“What the commission did was come into various parts of the state with a wrecking ball, slicing and dicing with reckless abandon, caring nothing for the various communities and their historical cohesion,” Howell said in a statement.
“It is entirely conceivable that due to this fragmentation of Lapeer County, we may have no one from the county representing us in the House of Representatives.”
The MICRC was created by a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2018.
Nessel’s office said in a statement that it has received and is reviewing the request, but no decision has been made.
“As the state’s chief law enforcement officer, the attorney general is uniquely situated to ensure that state commissions comply with their constitutional duties,” Howell said. “The redistricting commission did not do that. If she wants, Dana Nessel can help rectify this situation. Time is of the essence in settling this matter.”
The Michigan Supreme Court this month rejected a lawsuit by Black lawmakers who argued the maps violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act, illegally diluting the power of Black voters.
Three justices nominated by Democrats – Chief Justice Bridget McCormack, Megan Cavanagh and Elizabeth Welch – and one justice nominated by Republicans – Elizabeth Clement – ruled that a lack of majority-minority districts in Detroit wouldn’t necessarily take away a chance for minority voters to elect candidates of their choice.
Republican-nominated justices David Viviano and Brian Zahra and Democratic-nominated Justice Richard Bernstein wrote a dissenting opinion arguing the ruling was premature since the case originated with the Michigan Supreme Court and thus did not go through the processes that would normally have happened in lower courts.
The dissenting opinion says they would have appointed an independent expert to assist the Court in assessing the evidence.
“Procedure matters. People care about how their cases are handled and whether they had a fair opportunity to be heard. As a matter of procedure, the majority’s decision today is completely unprecedented,” the dissent reads. “It does not resemble what would normally occur in a case filed in our trial courts or in the federal courts. It does not reflect anything required by our court rules. And it does not accord with any notion of fair play.”
“The majority’s decision today will do much to undermine the public’s confidence that this Court will take seriously original complaints filed in our Court under Const 1963, art 4, § 6.”
The commission faces at least three other lawsuits – including by Democrats, who argue the maps give an unfair partisan advantage to Republicans, and by Republicans, who argue the Commission didn’t give enough consideration to communities of interest – and a budget deficit of nearly $1 million.
Despite the budget deficit and the fact that the mapping process has been completed since December, commissioners voted 8-3 Thursday to give themselves a 7% pay raise.
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