Daunt v. Benson, No. 19-2420 (6th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Electors voted to establish a commission of citizens to adopt district boundaries for the Michigan Senate, Michigan House of Representatives and U.S. Congress, every 10 years. Article IV, section 6 of the amended Michigan Constitution establishes the membership criteria for this “independent citizens redistricting commission,” excluding eight classes of individuals with certain current or past political ties. A final decision to adopt a redistricting plan requires a majority vote, including at least two commissioners who affiliate with each major party, and at least two who do not affiliate with either party. Commission members may not discuss redistricting matters outside of an open meeting, except under specific circumstances. The Republican Party and individuals sought a preliminary injunction, alleging that the eligibility criteria violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments; that allowing applicants to self-identify as Republicans violated the Party’s freedom of association; that the Commission’s composition was viewpoint-discriminatory; and that the speech provision violated the First Amendment.
The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The Amendment’s eligibility criteria do not burden the plaintiffs based on their status as Republicans. Even if the criteria imposed a moderate burden on First Amendment activities, they would satisfy a “flexible analysis.” There is no constitutional limitation on Michigan making the forbearance from certain activities a condition of sitting on the commission. The eligibility criteria are essential to the definition of this Commission and its independence from partisan meddling. The Party does not have a First Amendment right to control the self-affiliation of commissioner-applicants. Although the speech provision does burden the commissioners’ freedom to speak about redistricting, this burden is outweighed by Michigan’s more-than-adequate justifications. Michigan’s effort to ensure that a sizeable minority of commission members are non-affiliated does not violate the First Amendment.