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Redistricting controversy back in the news

April 29, 2019

Letter from the President

By Brian Calley

The redistricting controversy is back in the news and it is sure to cast a long shadow over the legislative process in the coming months.

Every ten years following the US Census, Congressional and Michigan House/Senate district lines are redrawn. This process establishes where the borders are for state representatives, state senators and US congressional members.

Over the past several months, a lawsuit has been making its way through the courts seeking a mid-term redrawing of the district lines. The lawsuit claims that the current maps are “gerrymandered.”

To the surprise of pretty much everyone, a panel of three federal judges declared the current lines unconstitutional. Their decision requires the state to redraw the lines by August 1st of this year. It requires the legislature to pass and the governor to sign a bill rectifying the court’s objections to the current district lines. Furthermore, the decision stipulates that if the legislature and governor fail to agree on new lines by August 1st, the judges will draw the lines themselves.

What is truly extraordinary about this decision is that the judges require existing state Senate terms to be cut in half and new elections called in 2020 for those seats in the yet to be drawn new districts. That is truly unprecedented and it is fair to classify at least this portion of the decision as extreme judicial activism.

Conventional wisdom is that this decision will not withstand scrutiny in our nation‘s highest court, the Supreme Court. Still, this is another example of opponents taking issues they lost in the legislative process to court in order to try and change the outcome. The constant use of the courts to overturn a separate and coequal branch of government is quickly becoming a source of uncertainty in Michigan.

The practical ramification of this decision, even if eventually overturned by the Supreme Court, is that our political system will be consumed and preoccupied by trying to fit a redistricting process into a couple of months. It normally takes a couple of years. What’s worse than that is that it puts the entire political system into election mode right away. And that is not conducive to creating an environment for tackling the most important issues.

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