If there was ever any doubt about the Republican approach to the 2020 elections, people like Scott Walker are dispelling them. As Talking Points Memo reported a few weeks back, Walker, who was formerly governor of Wisconsin, currently runs a group called the National Republican Redistricting Trust. That organization is allied with the (misnamed) “Fair Lines America,” which is suing Michigan in an effort to overturn a recently passed anti-gerrymandering referendum.
In a preview of the coming war over redistricting reform, Republican politicians and operatives in Michigan filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the state’s new, voter-approved redistricting commission.
Behind the lawsuit is Fair Lines America Foundation, which, according to the Detroit News,is affiliated with the Scott Walker-led National Republican Redistricting Trust.
The Republicans allege that the independent commission violates the Constitution’s First Amendment and its Equal Protection Clause by imposing certain requirements on who can serve on the commission. Specifically, individuals cannot serve on the 13-member commission if they, in the past six years, were partisan candidates, elected officials, political appointees, lobbyists, campaign consultants or political party officials.
There is a Yiddish word that fits this lawsuit perfectly: chutzpah. (Google it.)
Conditions like the ones imposed for serving on the Michigan commission are common in states where independent redistricting commissions are in place. The new GOP lawsuit alleges, however, that these conditions–imposed to ensure a lack of partisan bias on the part of citizens drawing district lines–are unconstitutional.
“Plaintiffs have been excluded from eligibility based on their exercise of one or more of their constitutionally protected interests,i.e., freedom of speech (e.g., by the exclusion of candidates for partisan office), right of association (e.g., by the exclusion of members of a governing body of a political party), and/or the right to petition (e.g., by the exclusion of registered lobbyists),” the lawsuit alleged.
The article predicts that the Michigan lawsuit is only the first of several that will be filed in states that have addressed the anti-democratic effects of partisan redistricting (aka gerrymandering) by establishing nonpartisan commissions.
Before Mitch McConnell and Trump succeeded in adding numerous right-wing ideologues to the federal judiciary, I wouldn’t have worried about this lawsuit. I would expect its patently ridiculous argument to be given short shrift. But given the caliber of people elevated to the federal bench (several nominees even refused to affirm that Brown v. Board of Education is good law…), all bets are off.
With the Supreme Court ruling last month that federal judges cannot rein in partisan gerrymandering, voting rights advocates will be only expanding their efforts to implement redistrict reform via independent commissions.
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the conservative majority in the case, name-checked Michigan’s ballot initiative specifically to argue that there other avenues besides the federal judiciary to address the problem of extreme gerrymanders.
How his court will handle the coming wave of lawsuits challenging those commissions remains to be seen.
It has become glaringly obvious that the GOP cannot win a national election unless it can gerrymander districts and suppress minority votes. In their desperation to keep control of the mechanisms that ensure a non-democratic result favoring Republicans, party functionaries aren’t even giving lip service to majority rule. They aren’t even pretending to care about democracy and/or the integrity of the electoral process.
The midterm elections pointed to the only available remedy: turnout so massive that cheating can’t carry the day.