An Ingham County Circuit Court jurist has ruled that a new state law handing over redistricting authority to the Republican-controlled Oakland County Board of Commissioners is unconstitutional, and GOP brass are vowing to appeal Judge William Collette’s ruling handed down Wednesday, Feb. 15.
Oakland County Democratic Party Chairman Frank Houston, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the legality of Public Act (PA) 280 of 2011, said he’s pleased with the ruling.
“We’re glad we won, and we thought it was justified,” said Houston, who chaired the Oakland County Reapportionment Commission which approved new Board of Commissioners district lines in May in a 3-2 party-line vote. “It’s not just good for Democrats in Oakland County, it’s good for democracy.”
When House Bill 5187 was shepherded through the state Legislature late last year, Democrats — who controlled the county board redistricting process via a 3-2 majority — contended that the legislation sponsored by state Rep. Bradford Jacobsen (R-Lake Orion) was a back-handed attempt by Republicans to wrench back control over the county board’s district lines, after county Prosecutor Jessica Cooper and Treasurer Andy Meisner, both Democrats, won their campaigns in 2008, giving them seats on the five-member redistricting panel that Houston helmed.
Conversely, Republicans argued that the new law saves the county roughly $250,000 annually — $2.5 million over 10 years — by reducing the size of the county board from 25 to no more than 21 commissioners and putting the redistricting process in the hands of people who are more accountable to the county’s voters: the Oakland County Board of Commissioners.
Several officials said that, between the appeals process and the timeframe for approval of and public comment on new district maps, should the law be upheld by the state Supreme Court in the event it gets to that level, there could be a wrench thrown into the 2012 election cycle since the filing deadline for candidates is May 15, leaving open the possibility that legal process could still be left unresolved by that time.
Yet Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Gingell (R-Lake Orion) said he sees the matter differently.
“From my standpoint, it’s too early to start speculating on all of that,” Gingell said. “I guess anything is possible. Anything could happen. I know deadlines in the past have been missed due to court challenges in other areas, in other states. I hope the intention is to get this to the next level of appeal or directly to the Supreme Court for a ruling as quickly as possible.”
A series of candidates for the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, incumbents and new faces alike, have filed to run for two-year terms on the county board that pay about $33,000 per year.
Gingell also said that the Board of Commissioners Oversight Committee, which under the new law has been tasked with redrawing commissioner district lines, will not be meeting this week because “there hasn’t been any orders written yet” relative to what that panel should do — whether it’s to proceed as intended by the county board, or to halt its work altogether while the legal fight plays itself out.
“I think we are taking the position of giving it some time to see what the orders actually are because they are supposed to be (issuing written orders) within a week (of the Feb. 15 ruling,” Gingell said.
“Today’s ruling by the liberal Ingham County Circuit Court is a Phyrric victory for the Democrats,” said county Executive L. Brooks Patterson. “Ingham County Circuit Court has a long record of ruling in favor of Democrats, only to be overturned by higher courts. This matter will be settled in the Michigan Supreme Court.”
According to Bill Mullan, Oakland County Media and Communications Officer, it’s possible for the defendants in the case — Gov. Rick Snyder and the Oakland County Board of Commissioners — to file a request that the state Supreme Court hear the matter instead of the state Court of Appeals, but that request can’t be filed until an appeal is filed with the appellate court.
It’s unknown at this time if the defendants will also file an appeal with the high court.