Michigan Supreme Court Nixes Secretary of State Benson’s Redistricting Extension Request

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by Bruce Walker

 

The Michigan Supreme Court denied a request from Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission to grant an extension for redrawing the state’s district map.

Benson and the ICRC filed a Petition for Relief with the Court in April, asking the Court to recognize the ICRC’s constitutionally imposed deadline as “unrealistic.” The petition argued the new timeline would ensure the Bureau of Elections had sufficient time to update the state’s voter registration database with the new district lines. Additionally, they argued, local clerks would be able to create and provide every voter with a correct ballot.

The extension was requested because of the six-month delay of 2020 U.S. Census data due to the coronavirus pandemic, which, it anticipated, would precipitate lawsuits. U.S. Census data is scheduled to become available Oct. 1. The ICRC was seeking to move its deadline from mid-September to Dec. 11, which would push back approval of final district maps to Jan. 25, 2022. The deadline for the filing of candidates for the November 2022 election is April 15.

The seven members of the Court unanimously rejected the request. “By our decision today, we have declined the invitation to clothe the commission or the Secretary of State with any lawsuit-proof vest,” reads the Court’s opinion.

Although lauding the ICRC’s request for a judicial review, Justice Elizabeth Welch, writing the decision on behalf of the Court, noted: “The risk of future lawsuits – however likely and however inconvenient to the commission’s ongoing work – is insufficient reason to justify the relief requested. Nor should we provide binding direction when it appears that the commission, an independent constitutional actor, has already decided that delay is necessary.”

The three-page decision concludes: “The Court’s decision is not a reflection on the merits of the questions briefed or how this Court might resolve a future case raising similar issues. It is indicative only that a majority of this Court believes that the anticipatory relief sought is unwarranted.”

Michigan Freedom Fund Executive Director Tori Sachs applauded the Supreme Court’s decision.

“The constitution requires the redistricting commission to provide time for public comment and to produce new maps by November 1,” Sachs said in a statement.

“Voters enshrined these requirements in the state’s constitution and they expect results, not excuses. Jocelyn Benson has become synonymous with service delays and outrageous wait times, but the Supreme Court refused to give her a pass. Today’s ruling both upholds the constitution and puts the commission on the clock. It’s time to deliver,” she said.

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Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.
Photo “Jocelyn Benson” by Jocelyn Benson.

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