Redistricting commission sues legislature as 'last resort'
Michigan’s redistricting commission is suing the state legislature for funding. That’s after it’s gone without a budget since October.
The commission says it still needs money to pay its lawyers to defend Michigan’s legislative district maps against two active lawsuits.
Executive director Edward Woods III said the state constitution requires lawmakers to fund it as long as there’s still work to do.
“We’re an independent, non-partisan commission. We want the constitution to be followed and our money appropriated so that we can do our jobs,” Woods said.
The state Legislature had considered a bill to reauthorize $1.5 million for the commission that was left over from the previous budget. But that year end supplemental was wrapped up in larger negotiations that didn’t end up going anywhere before lawmakers went home, likely for the year.
In the lawsuit, the commission is seeking a ruling that would provide it $3.1 million.
Woods says the legal action it’s a last resort.
“This is not something we were looking to do but we have been requesting funds since May 13th and as [of] today, we haven’t received one dime for Fiscal Year '23, even though we have legal bills,” Woods said.
He compared attempts to get around funding the commission as circumventing the will of the voters. The group came into being because of a 2018 constitutional amendment that voters approved.
The group’s primary job of drawing maps has been finished since last December. That’s led many critics to question the need for it to continue meeting.
“The commission will have to explain to the new legislature or the courts why they need more than double that amount. Or perhaps why they still exist at all, since they competed their work months ago,” Matt Sweeney, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) said in a statement.
The Michigan Constitution states that the legislature "shall provide adequate funding to allow the commission to defend any action regarding an adopted plan.”
Legal scholar John Pirich said the constitution seems clear on requiring compensation.
“I guess the question is, did they appropriate sufficient funds or did the activities that the commission engaged in exceed what was the necessary amount of the appropriation. I think that’s really a fact question for a court to decide,” Pirich said.
While he said there aren’t many situations that are directly analogous the commission seeking payment, he said there are examples of courts requiring lawmakers to appropriate funds.
Whether that will be something for the next Legislature to sort in January, or if a judge will force some action before the Legislature officially adjourns "sine die" -- for the remainder of the year -- on December 28, remains to be seen.