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MI Redistricting Commission Asks Supreme Court For More Time

congressional district map of Michigan
U.S. Dept. of Interior

The Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission is asking the Michigan Supreme Court to set aside voter-approved deadlines and give it more time to do its job.

The problem is the COVID-19 crisis delayed sharing critical US Census data with the commission.

“That is clashing with the deadlines that people thought were reasonable,” said Assistant Attorney General Ann Sherman, the commission’s lawyer, during oral arguments before the court Monday.

The commission says it needs up-to-date US Census data to do its job. The commission does not have that data because the work of the census bureau was slowed down by the COVID-19 crisis.

The commission says that means it can’t meet the constitutionally imposed deadline if it’s also going to comply with the amendment’s other requirements, including a public comment period.

So, the commission wants the court to issue an order to override the amendment’s timeline and allow it more time.

This is, to the say the least, a unique situation. Drawing new boundaries for congressional and legislative districts is a once-in-a-decade event. This is also the first time it’s being handled in Michigan by a commission established by a 2018 voter-approved amendment to the state constitution.

The commission is supposed to have new district lines submitted by September 17 to comply with 45-day comment period and to have maps adopted by November 1st. But the US Census won’t release final data until September 30.

The big question facing the court is whether it can on its own make changes to the Michigan Constitution, even in the face of an unexpected catastrophe such as the COVID pandemic.

But Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack wondering if there isn’t a practical – albeit awkward – solution.

“The constitution says nobody other than the commission can draw the maps,” she said, “and it has no penalty for non-compliance, so what if the commission just does it as soon as it can, but it doesn’t meet the deadline? What is the penalty? What are you worried about?”

Assistant Attorney General Heather Meingast, also arguing for the delay, said that could give opponents of the commission, which includes legislative Republicans, grounds to challenge whatever it comes up with.

And that, she said, is not what voters wanted when they adopted the amendment by a nearly 61.3 percent majority.

“We have an impossibility facing us right now,” said Meingast. “And there are consequences.”

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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