The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is facing some backlash after hosting a closed meeting Wednesday to discuss the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
The MICRC postponed Wednesday's meeting in East Lansing for over two hours after receiving a death threat through email. MICRC spokesperson Edward Woods said the threat was not directed at any specific member of the commission, but toward the commission as a whole.
The Michigan State Police is investigating the threat.
The MICRC went into a closed meeting to discuss the VRA with the commission's general counsel, Julianne Pastula, and voting rights lawyer Bruce Adelson and Michigan's history of discrimination and voting.
Woods said the group is allowed to go into closed sessions to speak with an attorney for legal advice and is protected by the Open Meetings Act (OMA). The MICRC is not currently facing any litigation.
Attorney Steve Liedel, who served as legal counsel to Democratic former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, disagrees with Woods. Liedel said the MICRC likely violated both the constitution and the OMA.
“The commission ignored the clear language in the Constitution that says that all of their business must be conducted in public and in an open meeting and that any meeting has to be broadcast in real time. And that portion of the meeting, so there is an issue under the Constitution," Liedel said. “And then there is an issue under the Open Meeting Act. The Open Meetings Act permits consultation with an attorney, but it has to relate to specific litigation and specific litigation would have to have a negative financial impact on the public."
The MICRC was designed to be a transparent and fair way to create new districts in the state after years of gerrymandered districts created by the Legislature. The 13-member panel, composed of four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents, was formed after a 2018 state constitutional measure passed.
Gustavo Portela, Michigan Republican Party spokesperson, said the MICRC entered a “new low" on Wednesday.
“Michiganders were sold on a commission that would be transparent and accountable in the creation of fair state and federal districts under the constitution," said Portela. “It's another gut punch for Michigan voters who were lied to about how this commission would conduct its business and create fair maps for which Michiganders could choose their representation in Lansing and in Washington, D.C."
Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said the closed meeting shut out the public, noting Black and Brown voters have called for maps that represent their communities more fairly.
“Last week, hundreds of people stood up in Detroit during the MICRC's first public hearing demanding changes to the maps to ensure fair representation for Black and Brown voters," she said in a statement. “We have yet to hear the Commission's debrief on the public hearings. Instead of having an open and transparent discussion, the Commission retreated behind closed doors to discuss VRA. This process cannot move forward until the Commission addresses what they've heard from the public, what was discussed in closed session, and how they plan to fix the maps accordingly."
Voters Not Politicians, the organization that led the 2018 ballot proposal to create the MICRC, joined the criticism over the commission's decision to go into a closed session.
“The intent was to bring redistricting out into the open through a fair, impartial, and transparent process. Redistricting business includes deliberating issues arising under the Voting Rights Act," said Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians.
After a public hearing in Detroit on Oct. 20, Department of Civil Rights Executive Director John E. Johnson Jr. said the MICRC's approved proposed maps violate the VRA, which requires districts to fairly represent minority communities.
During a press conference Wednesday night, Pastula said the minutes from the closed session were protected under attorney-client privilege and would likely not be released to the public.
Liedel isn't convinced that the commission's discussion about Michigan's history of discrimination would be protected under attorney-client privilege.
“Was that memo prepared by an attorney? And if not, how can you claim an exemption due to attorney-client privilege for your discussion in closed session? I'm having a hard time following that, because they clearly stated that they were two memos. One was from the voting rights attorney and the other from their consultant on historical patterns of race-based discrimination in Michigan," Liedel said.
Woods denies that the MICRC violated the Constitution or OMA and doesn't believe the closed session undermines the commission's transparent process.
“There's no ding on the reputation of the commission in terms of its ability to be open and transparent. And to suggest that is just not fair," Woods said.
Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: email@example.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, now running for Senate, has been accused of illegal campaign finance tactics by a watchdog group. The group has accused Greitens of using his state campaign fund to pay for unrelated expenses.
"In a complaint filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission, Washington-based Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit focused on campaign finance laws and ethics, said the Republican spent more than $100,000 from his Missouri account to finance the startup costs of his political comeback attempt," reported Kurt Erickson. "The potentially unlawful spending included payments to a longtime aide who is now his Senate campaign manager, as well as to public relations firms and media consulting firms, and for digital media costs, the complaint noted."
"In one example, the complaint alleges Greitens spent $18,000 from his state account to develop a website and then began using a very similar website when he announced his Senate bid in March. To account for that expense, the complaint says Greitens made an $18,000 contribution to his Senate campaign," continued the report — all of which could be an illegal misrepresentation of the funds under federal transparency laws.
Greitens previously resigned in disgrace as governor of Missouri after allegations that he blackmailed a woman with whom he was either sexually involved, or possibly sexually assaulted. He has also been accused of felony computer tampering for misusing a charity donor list to fund his bid for governor, although that charge was ultimately dropped.
He is one of many in a crowded field of Republicans seeking the Senate nomination for Missouri's open Senate seat, another being Mark McCloskey, a personal injury lawyer who became famous for brandishing a gun at Black Lives Matter protesters.
Additional information is coming out about how "Crying Nazi" Christopher Cantwell has been preparing to defend himself in the civil lawsuit against organizers of the fatal 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Earlier in October, Raw Story reported that Cantwell is receiving legal help from fellow white supremacist Matt Hale.
BuzzFeed News has additional details from Jarrett William Smith, who was incarcerated with Cantwell in an Illinois prison.
"A man who spent five months with Cantwell in the same unit in a medium-security prison in Marion, Illinois, said Cantwell was inspired and emboldened by the polarizing messages emanating from Fox News — specifically Tucker Carlson. In a filing in the Charlottesville lawsuit, Cantwell specifically cites Carlson as someone with whom he shares many views," Christopher Miller reported.
Smith referred to the group of white supremacists in the jail as "the whites."
"Cantwell, Smith said, felt emboldened by the TV host's diatribes, and thought they echoed those he promoted and that helped fuel the 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville in 2017. Those messages included ones about the 'Great Replacement Theory,' a white supremacist delusion based on the bogus assumption that Democrats and liberal progressives are working to replace white people of European descent with non-European immigrants," Buzzfeed reported.
Smith and Cantwell were held in a unit that also housed accused MAGA bomber Cesar Sayoc and "merchant of death" arms dealer Viktor Bout.
"The men who helped Cantwell with his legal strategy are other white supremacists who are incarcerated in the same federal prison, Matthew Hale and William 'Bill' White. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Hale 'earned a law degree from Southern Illinois University and successfully passed the bar exam' but "the Illinois State Bar Association deemed Hale unfit for practice due to his racial activism." He was once also the leader of the World Church of the Creator, which the SPLC described as once being 'one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in America.' It doesn't appear that White, who started the American National Socialist Workers' Party, has had any formal legal training," BuzzFeed reported.
Read the full report.
Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Raw Story Investigates and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.
$95 / year — Just $7.91/month
I want to Support More
$14.99 per month