Michigan Redistricting Panel Likely Violated Constitution With Private Meeting, AG Says

The redistricting commission for the state of Michigan held a private meeting about two memos related to racially polarized voting and the requirement under the Voting Rights Act that people have an opportunity to elect minority candidates, Attorney General Dana Nessel said Monday.

According to the Associated Press, discussion among the commission of independent citizens, created in 2018 to redraw the state's political maps following the 2020 Census, is supposed to be open to the public.

This was the first meeting held since they released and began receiving public feedback on their proposal for new maps, which were criticized for what many said was their potential to disenfranchise the state's Black voters, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The commission reportedly discussed two memos titled Voting Rights Act and The History of Discrimination in the State of Michigan and its Influence on Voting. The maps the commission submitted for approval had no majority-Black districts in the city of Detroit, which has 15 such districts under the maps drawn in 2011.

Following a request for an opinion on the meeting from state Senators Jeff Irwin and Ed McBroom, Nessel released a 14-page opinion stating that the commission would likely have some instances where a private meeting was necessary, she could not say for sure this was one of them.

The state constitutional amendment that created the commission in 2018 includes language stating that all business conducted that could influence the drawing of the new maps is required to be public.

"If this presumption is correct, then the Commission was conducting 'business' that should have been done in an open meeting," Nessel wrote.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

Michigan, Redistricting, Dana Nessel
Michigan's redistricting commission should not have held a private meeting to discuss memos related to racially polarized voting and the federal Voting Rights Act's requirement that people have an opportunity to elect minority candidates, Attorney General Dana Nessel said on November 22, 2021. Above, Nessel listens to a question from reporters in Detroit on June 4, 2019. Paul Sancya/Associated Press File

Nessel rejected that the private discussion was justified due to attorney-client privilege, saying it is "repugnant to the constitution to go into a closed session to discuss a memorandum that is not confidential and must ultimately be published."

Edward Woods III, spokesman for the 13-member panel, said the commission respects the attorney general's opinion and will discuss her opinion "openly and transparently" at its next meeting on December 2. At a meeting last week, two commissioners said they were considering potentially releasing the memos.

The panel plans to take final votes on maps in late December, after which lawsuits appear likely.

The commission's experts have said African Americans could still elect candidates of their choice in seats where they comprise under 50 percent of the voting-age population. It has since proposed state House maps with three to seven majority-Black districts—up from zero under earlier drafts but down from 11 in the map that was drawn a decade ago—but none for Congress or the state Senate.

FAIR Maps, a conservative group tracking the redistricting process, said the panel should make public all legal memos, minutes and available footage from the closed meeting.

"The Constitution says the public has the right to know what they did and what they discussed. Commissioners must stop breaking the law immediately," executive director Tony Daunt said.

Michigan, Redistricting, Dana Nessel
Michigan's redistricting commission should not have held a private meeting to discuss memos related to racially polarized voting and the federal Voting Rights Act's requirement that people have an opportunity to elect minority candidates, Attorney General Dana Nessel said on November 22, 2021. Above, Nessel (center) is escorted to the entrance of the Michigan State Capitol on December 14, 2020, in Lansing. Elaine Cromie/Getty Images