Justice Stephen Markman wrote a report in response to Michigan ger­ry­man­dering plan | Ballotpedia

As Michigan’s redis­tricting com­mission promises to redraw the map of the state’s election dis­tricts by Nov. 1, a report from Hillsdale College urges its members to focus on tra­di­tional geo­graphic bound­aries rather than demographics. 

Stephen Markman, pro­fessor of con­sti­tu­tional law at Hillsdale and retired Michigan Supreme Court justice, wrote Hillsdale’s report at the request of College Pres­ident Larry Arnn. It responds to a report com­mis­sioned by the Uni­versity of Michigan, which urges the redis­tricting com­mission to redefine elec­toral dis­tricts based on race, eth­nicity, religion, and other features. 

“Hillsdale College is pretty much posed against the Uni­versity of Michigan; it’s an inter­esting tension we have there,” Markman said. “Both reports are trying to give some meaning to the term ‘com­munity of interest’ which is the critical term within the new con­sti­tu­tional pro­vision the people approved in 2018.”

Michigan voters approved the “Voters Not Politi­cians” pro­posal in 2018, a con­sti­tu­tional amendment to “establish a com­mission of cit­izens with exclusive authority to adopt dis­trict bound­aries for the Michigan Senate, Michigan House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and U.S. Con­gress, every 10 years.” 

According to Markman, the main goals of the new amendment were to limit ger­ry­man­dering and par­tisan dis­tricts, as well as to prevent leg­is­lators from drawing dis­tricts and engaging in self-dealing, by replacing them with a citizen-led commission.

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 dis­trict lines for the 2022 election and future elec­tions. The amendment states the new redis­tricting cri­teria are estab­lished to reflect “Michigan’s diverse pop­u­lation and com­mu­nities of interest.” 

The def­i­n­ition of “com­mu­nities of interest” is the central debate between the Uni­versity of Michigan and Hillsdale reports, according to Markman. 

“Every elec­toral dis­trict in the state is dependent on how we define a ‘com­munity of interest,’” Markman said. “Hillsdale is arguing that the Michigan Supreme Court on a number of occa­sions has defined that term on the basis of geo­graphical bound­aries, city, county, township bound­aries and so forth. This is the way that our dis­tricts in Michigan and most states in the country have been defined from time immemorial.”

The Uni­versity of Michigan report defines a com­munity of interest as “ a group of indi­viduals who share common bonds (eco­nomic, ethnic, cul­tural, etc.).” The report lists other examples of com­mu­nities of interest as trans­portation dis­tricts, special assessment tax dis­tricts, com­mu­nities con­cerned about envi­ron­mental hazards, or groups with a shared vision of the future of a community. 

Markman said he feared the Uni­versity of Michigan pro­posal would hide the problems of ger­ry­man­dering and par­tisan interests “under a more cam­ou­flaged name.” 

“There’s no standard for deter­mining which of 100 special interest groups or 100 racial, ethnic, or reli­gious groups are going to get the benefit of com­munity of interest status,” Markman said. 

“The great virtue of con­tinuing to define a com­munity of interest on the basis of geo­graphical bound­aries is that every Michi­gander is a member of some com­munity of interest.”

We all belong to a com­munity, it’s our home, we live in these com­mu­nities, we’re con­cerned about them and have an interest in these communities.”

Markman urged the com­mission to take Hillsdale’s report into con­sid­er­ation, as it is the prin­cipal response to the Uni­versity of Michigan.

“We’ve been trying for months to get some oppor­tunity to speak before the com­mission and share our per­spec­tives about the Uni­versity of Michigan report, and thus far we haven’t had any oppor­tunity to do that,” Markman said. “Obvi­ously the Uni­versity of Michigan is a bigger insti­tution than Hillsdale,” Markman said. “But I think Hillsdale’s put together a report that deserves con­sid­er­ation by the com­mission and by the people of Michigan, who approved a con­sti­tu­tional amendment in 2018 that never con­tem­plated the so-called ‘new theory of rep­re­sen­tation’ that the Uni­versity of Michigan is urging upon the commission.” 

Thomas Ivanco, exec­utive director of Uni­versity of Michigan’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy, which com­mis­sioned their report, said their report only focuses on com­mu­nities of interest. 

“Our report on Com­mu­nities of Interest did not address ger­ry­man­dering,” he said in an email, “but rather only addressed issues related to COIs.”.

Ivanco declined to comment on the Hillsdale report.