Black ExperiencePolitics

Mich. Congressional Hopeful Sues Governor, Claims Denial of Voting Rights

A Detroit attorney who wants to replace John Conyers for the U.S. House seat representing Michigan’s 13th Congressional District has filed a lawsuit against Gov. Rick Snyder for holding the seat vacant for nearly all of 2018 and denying voting rights to people living in the district.

“Gov. Snyder continues to treat residents of urban areas across the state as second-class citizens and is violating a laundry list of constitutional laws in doing so,” the attorney/activist Michael Gilmore said Tuesday in a statement.

Gilmore is one of several Democratic contenders for the seat Conyers vacated in December amid health issues and a sexual harassment scandal.

“By holding this congressional seat vacant for 11 months until the November 2018 general election, [Snyder] is denying minority residents of the 13th Congressional District the right to vote and the right to be represented in Congress,” Gilmore said. “This is yet another attempt to further silence the voice of minorities in the state and disregard their views.”

In explaining why he filed the lawsuit, Gilmore said that “according to the U.S. House Budget Committee, the fiscal year 2019 Budget process will begin in February 2018 and end in September 2018 with the fiscal year 2019 Fiscal Year beginning October 1, 2018 without any say-so or voice from the 658,383 citizens of the 13th Congressional District. A year of laws will be passed, with far-reaching impact, that our residents, minority or otherwise, will have no representation on. Republicans, from Lansing to the White House, have done everything they can to suppress the votes of Black and brown Americans.”

Plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit filed Jan. 2 at the Theodore Levin United States Courthouse in Detroit seek injunctive relief from systemic discrimination by Snyder involving regions in Michigan that contain primarily people of color and where the governor has created a substantial delay in filling the congressional vacancy.

Gilmore claims that contrary to the United States Constitution and the Michigan Constitution, the delayed vacancy and denial of voting rights, which are based residents’ the race or color, also impede:

•​ Equal Protections (US and MI Constitution)
•​ Due Process (US and MI Constitution)
•​ Right to Representation, Article I, Section 2, Clause 4 (US Constitution)
•​ 1st Amendment Freedom of Political Expression (US Constitution)
•​ 14th Amendment Right to Vote (US Constitution)

Meanwhile, Snyder contends that a special election earlier than November will cost up to $2 million, which Gilmore said is a paltry amount.

“When you do the math and divide $2 million by 658,383 citizens, that totals roughly $3.00 per voter,” Gilmore said. “That is a drop in the bucket of the state of Michigan’s annual $56.5 billion budget. That way of thinking is outrageous and should not be tolerated. Moreover, the cost of this constitutionally-mandated election has already been paid for by the taxpayers of the state of Michigan, who will not see a reduction in their taxes, despite the savings from this deprivation in their constitutional rights.

“The cost of the right to vote was too high during the Jim Crow era when we lost lives and has already been paid for by Civil Rights Freedom Riders, subject to poll taxes, dog bites, and being attacked by law enforcement with water hoses,” Gilmore said. “But Gov. Snyder wants us to believe that $3.00 per person in this District is too much. Unlike the District of Columbia, Michigan is a state. There is no circumstance which should prevent 658,383 of its citizens from being able to vote or from being represented in Congress for a year. This is ‘taxation without representation’ and it is illegal.”

Gilmore, who referenced a 1965 photo from Life magazine that showed his uncle, an Army veteran and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee member, with bandages on his forehead that resulted from being beaten on ‘Bloody Sunday’ while marching in the Selma to Montgomery March, said his relatives marched and protested in the last century to demonstrate the desire of African-American citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

“By highlighting racial injustice, they contributed to passage that year of the Voting Rights Act, a landmark federal achievement of the Civil Rights Movement,” Gilmore said. “For 52 years, this seat has been filled by a civil rights leader and architect of the 1965 Voting Rights Act who helped ensure every American had the right to vote. Immediately following his retirement, the governor wants us to standby for nearly a year with no voice in Congress.”

A Dec. 11 letter from the governor’s office, which responded to correspondence Gilmore wrote a few days earlier requesting a special election earlier in 2018, stated, “aligning the special election with already-scheduled election dates will save local taxpayers up to $2 million and allows adequate time for candidates to prepare a campaign for office.”

Gilmore, who pointed out that Snyder said candidates need time to prepare for the November election, responded that the November election isn’t going anywhere.

“On its face, that may sound like cost savings and the need for candidate marketing, but upon careful analysis, it is simply an attempt by Snyder to pull the wool over the eyes of these voters,” he said. “We will be electing a member to represent the district in November, no matter what. That is not an excuse to hold the seat empty for the year until then. In the meantime, we have no vote, we have no voice, and we the people are unrepresented.”

Gilmore said Republicans across the country have implemented various laws to make it harder for Black and brown people in the U.S. to vote, and that a blatant plan to eliminate voting rights and the right to be represented by a Democratic voting block of 658,383 people is “so unheard” of that people are unable to recognize the truth.

“People must understand, this is not a ceremonial process that we are being left out of,” he said. “It’s Congress. It’s a year of laws that we will not have a voice in. It is a national budget, worth trillions of dollars in revenue and expenditures, that we will have zero representation toward. The reasons Gov. Snyder has given for denying these citizens representation during the legislative meeting of Congress are insufficient and unconstitutional.”

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