Unintentionally, the media help opponents of the redistribution plan
Believe me, no one is more agitated than me by closed meetings and government records kept out of the public eye.
But the Detroit and Bridge Michigan newspapers are leading someone else’s battle by suing for a pair of obtuse documents that Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission doesn’t want us to see.
The juice might have been worth it six months ago, long before the Redistribution Commission put pen to paper on the charts. The public should know how black people have historically been drawn within Michigan’s legislative and legislative boundaries, the subject of these documents.
Should dense pockets of black voters be “wrapped” together, almost assuredly making them portray a black public official?
Or should they be cracked and mixed with the predominantly white suburbs, giving black candidates more opportunities to win seats in the Legislative Assembly?
Here in Michigan, we’ve rounded up black people for at least the last three cycles. The courts have agreed with this.
But what about cracking? How it works? Do the feds agree with a lot of 40% black neighborhoods instead of fewer 55% black neighborhoods?
Our new citizen-led constituency commission took the road less traveled. They cracked the cards in Detroit, shifting the legislative districts from Detroit to the suburbs like spokes on a wheel.
Is it good or bad? It’s different. Federal courts might not agree with this. We take the word of commission counsel Bruce Adelson, but other lawyers will argue otherwise.
All of this should have been said in the spring when the commission was busy micromanaging its little bureaucracy.
Alas, that was not the priority. The commission did not talk much about it. The press did not talk much about it. It was a missed opportunity and a shame.
All the hard work of the commission could be scrapped with just one negative ruling from a federal judge because it went unreported. Michigan voters’ new experiment with a redistribution commission would be a failure.
From the start, opponents of the commission had only a few legitimate arguments about dismantling the commission’s cards. Arguing in federal court that they screwed up the US voting rights law has always been on the list.
By the commission taking the less chosen route, the argument went to No.1 or No.2 in terms of potential best legal arguments.
Adelson’s secret documents should have existed in the spring. The commission should have asked for them. The press should have asked the question.
Instead, these documents surfaced in the fall. The commissioners had already cracked Detroit by then. Every legislative map the commission made of Detroit in the center of a twisted pinwheel.
The public complained and the media wrote about the outcry, but nothing changed. The commission has made its decision.
Knowing the legal risk, the commission’s legal team, made up of four lawyers, walked around the cars and handed the memos to the commission. The press wants to see them.
Lawyers don’t want to play euchre with the other party seeing their cards. They tell the press to take a hike.
It is no longer about the press. It’s FAIR Maps or the Detroit Voters’ Coalition or whoever wants to dismantle these maps in court.
The Detroit News, The Detroit Free Press and Bridge Michigan have done the work of these groups in suing to make these documents public.
They unwittingly contribute to the cause of dismantling the work of this commission, part of a larger game of chess in the name of open government, when:
– The map-drawing process of this commission has been painfully transparent up to this point.
– The media value of documents is due more to the hunt than to the actual content.
– The information in the documents will likely be debated in open court anyway.
Of course, maybe the Supreme Court will order disclosure of the documents. The press scores what looks like a goal in an empty net to me.
But does the goal really amount to a victory?
(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol MIRS Information Service at [email protected])
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