News groups argue for more access to redistricting panel

Michigan Capitol Building
Posted at 4:49 PM, Dec 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-15 16:49:20-05

DETROIT, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a challenge to whether a new state commission creating maps for the Legislature and Congress can keep certain business a secret.

News organizations are suing to get access to a recording of a closed meeting and some memos at the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. The commission has refused, citing attorney-client privilege.

Voters in 2018 created the commission through an amendment to the state constitution, taking the job of mapmaking out of the hands of politicians. More than 130 hearings have been open to the public.

On Oct. 27, the commission met privately for 75 minutes after receiving public feedback about draft maps. The memos at issue involved federal voting law and the impact of discrimination on elections.

“Trying to figure out how to draw the lines around” attorney-client privilege “feels very tricky and a job I wish the constitution had given to someone besides us,” Chief Justice Bridget McCormack said.

Attorney Kurtis Wilder, arguing on behalf of news organizations, said the task of making maps was radically changed by voters.

“What used to be done in secret the public wanted done in the open,” he said.

An attorney for the commission, David Fink, said data and materials used in creating maps must be made public. He argued that the memos withheld from the public don’t fit.

“For this court to micromanage what the commission does on a day-to-day basis seems to be outside the realm of practical experience and constitutional intent,” Fink told the Supreme Court.

The court heard arguments a day after the House gave final approval to a bill that would prohibit the commission from using exceptions in Michigan’s open meetings law to hold closed sessions. It now goes to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The commission will meet Dec. 28 to vote on final maps. There are four U.S. House options, three state House options and three state Senate options that were collaboratively drawn.