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Michigan Newspapers Sue Redistricting Panel Over Closed Meeting

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan newspapers sued the state's redistricting commission, demanding that it release a recording of a closed meeting and make public two memos that panel members discussed during the meeting.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday by The Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press, The Center for Michigan Inc./Bridge Michigan, and the Michigan Press Association. It seeks judgments from the Michigan Supreme Court that the 13-member independent citizens panel violated the state constitution by conducting business in a nonpublic meeting, must do all future business in open meetings and release all materials used to develop redistricting plans — including eight other memos.

The commission, which is drawing congressional and legislative maps for the first time following a 2018 voter-approved ballot initiative to curb partisan gerrymandering, called the closed session with its lawyer on Oct. 27 to discuss two memos, titled "Voting Rights Act" and "The History of Discrimination in the State of Michigan and its Influence on Voting."

It was the panel's first meeting after it received public feedback about draft congressional and legislative lines at hearings across the state. In Detroit, residents and the state's civil rights director had criticized how the proposals had no majority-Black districts.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Nov. 22 issued a nonbinding legal opinion saying commissioners should not have met privately. The panel has said the communications are protected by attorney-client privilege and last week voted against their release.

"Michigan voters went to great lengths to ensure transparency and meaningful public participation in the redistricting process," the newspapers' lawyers wrote in the suit, which requests an expedited review. "Accordingly, plaintiffs, as members of the public, have the necessary clear legal right to public disclosure of the redistricting materials."

Edward Woods III, spokesman for the commission, said it "looks forward to asserting its right to attorney-client privilege in court." He said the panel has held 133 regular meetings and hearings open to the public.

Commissioners will meet Dec. 28 to vote on final maps.

© 2021 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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