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Republican Party Sues Benson To Stop Redistricting Commission

Republican Party Sues Benson To Stop Redistricting Commission

The Michigan Republican Party filed a federal lawsuit Thursday challenging what it calls the "unfair and unconstitutional proposed redistricting committee."

The 25-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court's Western Division argues the commissioner selection process violates the GOP's freedom of association rights by precluding parties from picking their own representatives to serve on the panel.

"Michigan's new redistricting committee, as interpreted by Secretary Jocelyn Benson, will unfairly violate basic constitutional rights and the ability of political parties to choose their representatives," GOP Chair Laura Cox said in a statement. "This crazy new system will even allow the Democratic party to influence who represents the Republican party on the proposed commission, which on its face violates basic constitutional principles.

"We do not oppose the concept of a fairly designed and implemented redistricting committee, but that is not what this is. Instead this is an assault on the associational rights of political parties," she added.

Secretary of State spokesman Shawn Starkey said Benson remains "focused on honoring and respecting the will of the voters," who approved Proposal 2, which created the commission, in November.

The redistricting commission must include four members from each major political party and five who don't have that affiliation. The amendment allows the House and Senate's partisan majority and minority leaders to strike up to five applicants each and the Secretary of State randomly draws names of four Republicans, four Democrats and five applicants not affiliated with either major party to serve on the commission.

"It is very possible -- even likely -- that a Democratic legislative leader could strike from consideration a commissioner applicant who affiliates with the Republican party, or vice versa," the complaint alleged.

The complaint alleges violation of First and Fourteenth amendments right to join together in furtherance of common political beliefs; violation of freedom of speech; and violation of equal protection.

The GOP seeks a preliminary injunction prohibiting Benson from implementing the commission.

Lavora Barnes, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, said the point of Proposal 2 was to take politics out of democracy and put it back in the hands of the people.

"That is where Michigan Democrats stand on this and every issue -- with the people," she said in a statement.

Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians (VNP), the ballot committee that backed the initiative, said the lawsuit isn't a surprise and called it a "reminder of what's at stake." 

"Those who have the most power to lose will do whatever they can to keep hold of it, but we are confident the redistricting amendment will withstand this legal challenge and all others, and that the will of the people will prevail," she said.

Attorney General Dana Nesssel has criticized the litigation and she reiterated her position Thursday in a statement that said her office will continue to "vigorously defend" Benson and the "legality of the redistricting commission, preserving the will of the people and their right to adopt amendments to Michigan's Constitution at the polls."

Thursday's filing is the second lawsuit targeting the commission. 

In a separate July suit, Daunt v. Benson, more than a dozen Republicans allege the voter-approved amendment discriminates against participants based on political service or family ties.

VNP filed a motion to intervene in the Daunt lawsuit, saying it offers "expertise and insights" since it drafted and sponsored the amendment.

Plaintiff Tony Daunt, executive director of Michigan Freedom Fund, said the latest court filing demonstrates the "commission is fatally flawed."

"The Constitution protects political parties’ ability to pick their own representatives, but this majority partisan commission denies that right," he said. "Between the violations laid out in this case and the blatant discrimination against Michiganians based on their job, their civic engagement, and most shamefully, who they are related to, it is clear that this entire amendment must be tossed."

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