While the Michigan Redistribution Commission promises to redraw the state’s electoral district map by November 1, a report from Hillsdale College urges its members to focus on traditional geographic boundaries rather than demographics.
Stephen Markman, a professor of constitutional law at Hillsdale and a retired Michigan Supreme Court judge, wrote the Hillsdale report at the behest of College President Larry Arnn. He responds to a report commissioned by the University of Michigan, which urges the Redistribution Commission to redefine electoral districts based on race, ethnicity, religion and other characteristics.
“Hillsdale College is pretty much the opposite of the University of Michigan; it’s an interesting tension that we have there, ”said Markman. “Both reports attempt to make sense of the term ‘community of interest’ which is the critical term in the new constitutional provision that the people approved in 2018.”
Michigan voters approved the “Voters Not Politicians” proposal in 2018, a constitutional amendment to “establish a citizens’ commission with exclusive power to adopt district boundaries for the Michigan Senate, the Michigan House of Representatives and the US Congress every 10 years ”.
According to Markman, the main goals of the new amendment were to limit gerrymandering and partisan ridings, as well as to prevent lawmakers from drawing ridings and engaging in personal transactions, replacing them with a commission run by citizens. .
The commission is made up of 13 registered voters selected by the Michigan Secretary of State and has the authority to draw legislative and congressional constituency boundaries for the 2022 and future elections. The amendment states that the new redistribution criteria are set to reflect “the diversity of Michigan’s population and communities of interest.”
The definition of “communities of interest” is the central debate between the reports from the University of Michigan and Hillsdale, according to Markman.
“Each electoral district in the state depends on how we define a ‘community of interest’,” said Markman. “Hillsdale argues that the Michigan Supreme Court has defined this term on several occasions based on geographic, city, county, township boundaries, etc. This is how our districts of Michigan and most of the states across the country have been defined since time immemorial. “
The University of Michigan report defines a community of interest as “a group of individuals who share common ties (economic, ethnic, cultural, etc.)”. The report lists other examples of communities of interest such as transportation districts, special assessment tax districts, communities concerned about environmental risks, or groups with a common vision for a community’s future.
Markman said he feared the University of Michigan proposal would mask issues of gerrymandering and partisan interests “under a more camouflaged name.”
“There is no standard for determining which of the 100 special interest groups or 100 racial, ethnic or religious groups will benefit from community of interest status,” Markman said.
“The great virtue of continuing to define a community of interest based on geographic boundaries is that every Michigander is a member of a community of interest.”
We all belong to a community, this is our home, we live in these communities, we care about them and have an interest in these communities.
Markman urged the commission to consider Hillsdale’s report because it is the main response at the University of Michigan.
“We have been trying for months to have the opportunity to speak before the commission and share our views on the University of Michigan report, and so far we have had no opportunity to do it, ”Markman said. “Obviously, the University of Michigan is a bigger institution than Hillsdale,” Markman said. “But I think Hillsdale wrote a report worth considering by the commission and the people of Michigan, who approved a constitutional amendment in 2018 that never considered the so-called ‘new theory of representation. “which the University of Michigan advocates. the Commission.”
Thomas Ivanco, executive director of the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan, which commissioned their report, had little to say about the Hillsdale report.
“Our report on communities of interest did not address gerrymandering,” he said in an email, “but rather addressed issues related to COIs.”