Retired Judge: Why Gerrymandering Will End Up at the State Supreme Court

December 04, 2017, 8:06 AM

The writer was a 52nd District Court judge in Novi and assistant state attorney general.  He's chief financial officer of the Justice Speakers Institute and a Deadline Detroit contributor.

By Brian MacKenzie

A hot political issue will be served up to the Michigan Supreme Court this winter. 

At stake is whether voters will be allowed to decide to amend the Michigan Constitution to end the unprincipled practice of gerrymandering. While some will, no one else running for statewide office has to take a public stand, and yet the Justices, two of whom will be on the election ballot in 2018, will be forced make a decision about it.

Gerrymandering, as many of you are aware, is the devious political practice which packs voters from one party into one one voting districts so that the other party’s candidates can win in a majority of the remaining districts. 

The result can mean that a party’s candidates wins control of the state house or senate along with a majority of the congressional delegation even if they lose the statewide vote by large margins.  A good example is the recent election in Virginia, where as a result of gerrymandering, the majority party lost the statewide vote by 10% and still appears to have retained control of the House of Delegates. 

How do I know the petition drive to end gerrymandering that is not yet finished will end up before the Michigan Supreme Court?

Because the more than 5,000 volunteers, behind the Voters Not Politician campaign, who have worked every event from the Woodward Dream Cruise to the Thanksgiving Day Parade, are accomplishing something political insiders did not believe was possible. They will shortly have gathered more than enough signatures to place the reform initiative before voters.

Brian MacKenzie: "Volunteers are accomplishing something politicval insiders did not believe was possible."

And the power brokers in Lansing are all too aware that the voters, if given the chance, will end this underhanded practice. 

So they are going to try to block the initiative from getting on the ballot. That is why in October they created the Committee to Protect Voters Rights. Its mailing address is a law firm that specializes in election law.

One of the committee's creators, Bob LaBrant, recently said: "It's a lot cheaper to keep a proposal off the ballot than it is to try to defeat it in a multimillion-dollar campaign."

Saving Millions of Dollars

Instead of fighting a ballot initiative, those millions of dollars would support candidates for stateide office like the Supreme Court.

Political insiders like LaBrant may be hoping that the justices will think beyond the legal issues for the upcoming lawsuit and consider how that money might affect their elections in 2018. Given LaBrant was at one time the treasurer of the Justice for Michigan's Citizens Committee, whose purpose was to funnel money into Supreme Court races, he would certainly know how to do that.

I don’t know Justices Kurtis T. Wilder or Elizabeth T. Clement, both of whom were just appointed to the Supreme Court this year by Governor Snyder. They will be up for election in 2018. 

However, both appear to be honorable people, so I doubt they'd let their election efforts impact how they rule on gerrymandering. That would be an ethical misstep and might also be a political mistake. Money is often the most important factor in a statewide race.

However, as LaBrant himself remarked, “Their (Voters Not Politicians) grassroots effort has been remarkable..Wherever two or more [voters] are gathered, they've been there," noting that he recently saw a volunteer at an Interstate 96 rest stop in Howell. "They've done an excellent job of developing a grassroots network of very impassioned people."

Undermining Passionate Petitioners

Thousands of impassioned people have been so motivated by the effort to end gerrymandering that they have stood at art fairs and highway rest stops. If the Supreme Court negates their months of effort based upon a supposed technicality, they'd be mighty displeased -- to understate it. 

So why would any statewide candidate want to energize these volunteers to work against them, especially when they have shown that they are willing to work in the wind, rain, cold and sleet?

The Supreme Court is not going to have the choice. Justices will have to rule on this hot political issue.

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By: Michael Lucido