The proposal to change how Michigan draws the lines for congressional and legislative districts is about to go on the ballot. But, will it stay there?
The question to create an independent commission to handle the job of redistricting is poised to become Proposal 2 on the November ballot. The group that gives the OK to what questions make it on the ballot meets Wednesday.
The Board of State Canvassers is made up of two Republicans and two Democrats. The Michigan Court of Appeals ordered the elections board to put the question on the ballot. And the Michigan Supreme Court has refused a request by the group battling the proposal to stop that from happening.
But this is not over.
Because while the Supreme Court dealt foes of the proposal a setback, it could still step in. A decision on whether to take the case, and possibly reverse the lower court and keep it off the ballot, is still pending.
David Doyle is with People Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, the group fighting the ballot question. He says his group does not consider theirs a lost cause. Not yet, at least. “We’ve had cases in the past where issues have been put on the ballot by the Board of State Canvassers and the Michigan Supreme Court has taken them off,” Doyle told It’s Just Politics. (Although you have to go back to the early 2000s to find the last time that’s happened.)
So, there’s a couple things to look for in regards to what happens next. First, whether the Supreme Court agrees to take the case and schedules arguments. Alternatively, the court might refuse to take the case and let the appeals court decision stand. That’s a distinct possibility, since the justices turned down their first, early chance to second-guess the lower court.
If the court does take the case in the coming weeks, that opens a big box of political complications because the court is elected.
Supreme Court elections appear on the non-partisan section of the ballot. But the reality is they are partisan positions. Candidates for state Supreme Court justice are nominated by partisan delegates to state party conventions.
Two Republican justices currently serving want to get nominated this summer at a state GOP convention and if they win in November, Republicans keep control of the Supreme Court. If they both lose, Democrats will be in charge.
Over the past three decades Republicans have largely succeeded in running their agendas through the state Legislature, and protecting their wins with a philosophically aligned judiciary.
So, what’s at stake here is power. And the ability of Republicans in the Legislature and their allies to protect hard-fought victories like the right-to-work law, for example, from legal challenges.
With so much at stake, redistricting is the most political question courts deal with. Judges and justices hate for their decisions to become political issues. But, in this case, they may not have a choice.