Unwittingly, the media is helping opponents of the redistricting plan

Kyle Melinn

Believe me, no one is more agitated than me by closed meetings and government records kept away from the public.

But the Detroit and Bridge Michigan newspapers are leading someone else’s battle by suing over a pair of obtuse documents 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 redistricting commission put pen to paper on the maps. The public should know how black people have historically been drawn into the boundaries of Congress and Michigan legislation, the subject of these documents.

Should dense pockets of black voters be “clustered,” almost assuredly giving them representation by a black public servant?

Or should they be split up and mixed with predominantly white suburbs, giving black candidates more opportunities to win seats in the legislature?

Here in Michigan, we’ve rounded up black people for at least the last three cycles. The courts have agreed with that.

But what about crack? How it works? Are the feds okay with lots of 40% black districts instead of fewer 55% black districts?

Our new citizen redistricting commission has taken the road less travelled. They deciphered the maps in Detroit, turning Detroit’s legislative districts into the suburbs like the spokes of a wheel.

Is it good or bad? It’s different. The federal courts might disagree with that. We take the word of commission counsel, Bruce Adelson, that it is, but other counsel will say otherwise.

All of this should have been discussed in the spring, when the commission was busy micromanaging its little bureaucracy.

Alas, it was not the priority. The commission didn’t say much about it. The press didn’t write much about it. It was a missed opportunity and a disgrace.

All the hard work of the commission could be swept away by a negative ruling from a federal judge because it was not discussed. Michigan voters’ new experiment with a redistricting commission would be a failure.

From the outset, opponents of the commission had few legitimate arguments about dismantling the commission’s cards. Arguing in federal court that they screwed up the US Voting Rights Act has always been on the list.

With the commission taking the less chosen route, the argument moved up to #1 or #2 in terms of the best potential 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, those documents surfaced in the fall. The Commissioners have already cracked Detroit by this time. Every legislative map the commission has drawn has Detroit at the center of a twisting windmill.

The public complained about it and the media wrote about the outcry, but nothing changed. The committee has made its decision.

Knowing the legal risk, the commission’s legal team of four lawyers surrounded the cars and handed the commission these “what’s up” memos. The press wants to see them.

Lawyers don’t want to play euchre with the other side seeing their cards. They tell the press to take a hike.

It’s not about the press anymore. It’s FAIR Maps or the coalition of Detroit voters 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 by filing a lawsuit to make these documents public.

They are unwittingly aiding the cause of culling the work of this commission, inserting themselves into a larger game of chess in the name of open government, as:

“The map-drawing process of this commission has been painfully transparent so far.

— The informational value of documents is much, much more related to the prosecution than to the actual content.

— The information in the documents will likely be discussed in open court anyway.

Of course, maybe the Supreme Court orders the release of the documents. The press scores what feels like an empty goal to me.

But does a goal really equal a victory?

(Email Kyle Melinn of Capitol MIRS Press Office at [email protected])

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