Partisan pressure and funding may influence supreme court redistricting decision

Jun 13, 2018

A ballot proposal to allow citizens to draw political district lines will likely reach the Michigan supreme court.

A campaign opposed to the measure is asking the court to keep the initiative from reaching the November ballot because, they say, it is too broad.

Craig Mauger is with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. He spoke with Ben Thorp about what influence money and partisanship may have on the justices who hear the case.

Mauger: Technically, you know, the court is nonpartisan. In our judicial system we hold up the value of independence. However, in Michigan the political parties nominate candidates for the supreme court however when they are on the ballot it doesn’t tell you which party they are and they are technically nonpartisan candidates. There’s also however that underlying tie that they are nominated by parties and often the candidates nominated by the republican party run as a team and the candidates nominated by the democratic party run as a team, so there is a huge partisan influence in how we select our supreme court judges.

Thorp: There are two judges who are up for reelection this year and it looks like both have taken money from the Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Commerce has come out in opposition to this ballot proposal, I guess talk about that, is that something where we say the influence is pretty clear here?

Mauger: It’s going to be fascinating to watch what happens because you have these two justices, Beth Clement and Curtis Wilder, who are up for their first election this year. They, as we kind of report in the story, their campaigns had fundraisers that they invited people to at the chamber offices. The chamber has reported giving each of their campaigns fifteen thousand dollars. At the same time the committee that brought the lawsuit to try to block the Voters Not Politicians proposal through the courts is using the chambers address and has taken, you know, about one hundred eighty thousand dollars in support from the chamber so far this year. So, you have the situation where there's kind of connections between the group that is challenging this asking the Supreme Court to rule a certain way and this group is also heavily supporting two of the Supreme Court justices campaigns. It will be very interesting to see how that's handled before the court.

Thorp:  I guess, have you talked to anyone else about maybe their thoughts on how this might shake up?

Mauger:  I'm hearing, you know, I'm hearing predictions all over about how this might go. There are people that think the Supreme Court's going to allow the for polls will to go on the ballot, the Court of Appeals ruled pretty strongly that it should go on the ballot and people think because of that the Supreme Court will go along with it. There are people that think that the justices will keep it off the ballot. The court is five to two right now, five Republicans two Democrats, and there are people that think that that divide will keep it off the ballot. Then there's been a theory put out there by a former Democratic Party chair that maybe the two Republicans who are up for election this year will recuse themselves because of some of these things and then it will be a three to two ruling, the other three Republicans will rule to keep it off the ballot. So, there's this huge array of preditions out there and it's really a storyline that will play out over the next couple months.

Thorp: Hey, thank you so much for your time

Mauger: Hey, thanks Ben.