Michigan may continue planning for its new voter-mandated independent redistricting commission, a federal judge has ruled, because Republicans are not likely to win their lawsuit alleging the panel's membership requirements are unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Janet Neff on Monday rejected the GOP's bid to stop implementation of a state constitutional amendment approved last fall.
In one of the biggest victories ever for opponents of partisan gerrymandering, 61 percent of voters decided to take the drawing of the next decade's legislative and congressional lines away from the Legislature and give it to a new panel — where a plurality must be without political connections or activities on their resume.
The Michigan GOP and several individual Republicans say those restrictions on membership limit their rights to free speech and free association. No party officials, lobbyists, consultants or any of their relatives may sit in five of the 13 seats; the others are split between Republicans and Democrats.
Neff, who was picked for the court in Grand Rapids by President George W. Bush, sent a clear signal where her formal ruling would come down. "The eligibility provisions at issue do not impose severe burdens on plaintiffs' First Amendment rights," she wrote. "There is no right to state office or appointment."
Republican officials signaled they would keep pursuing their arguments, either in this case or another federal lawsuit alleging the membership limits violate federal antidiscrimination laws.
Republicans drew the current boundaries ahead of the 2012 elections and they worked mostly as designed, with comfortable GOP control of the state House and Senate through the decade and a GOP majority in the congressional delegation until last fall, when the Democratic midterm wave produced at 7-7 split.
Thousands have already asked for a seat on the new commission, where the pay will be $40,000.The deadline for applying is June 1.