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Court Orders New Political District Maps; Special Elections In 2020

Court Orders New Political District Maps; Special Elections In 2020

Special elections with new maps will need to be held in 2020 in congressional, state Senate and House districts as part of the League of Women Voters' (LWV) gerrymandering lawsuit, a three-judge Court of Appeals panel ruled Thursday.

 

The 146-page opinion says the appeals court held every challenged district violates the plaintiffs' First Amendment rights to associate with a political party. It found 27 of the 34 challenged districts in the LWV federal gerrymandering lawsuit violated plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment rights "by diluting the weight of their votes."

 

"Today, this Court joins the growing chorus of federal courts that have, in recent years, held that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional," the opinion written by U.S. Circuit Judge Eric Clay reads. "We find that the Enacted Plan violates plaintiffs' First and 14th Amendment rights because it deliberately dilutes the power of their votes by placing them in districts that were intentionally drawn to ensure a particular partisan outcome in each district."

 

For practical purposes, an entirely new congressional map will need to be drawn and new legislative maps impacting multiple, if not all, districts will need to be drawn, as well.

 

The court ordered Secretary of State (SOS) Jocelyn Benson to conduct special elections in 2020 and it also provides the Legislature the opportunity to come up with remedial maps that remedy the constitutional violations. The court will consider any remedial plan passed by both chambers and signed into law by the Governor on or before Aug. 1.

 

However, if the deadline is missed, the court will draw the new maps, according to the ruling. A special master could also be appointed to do so, and the parties were ordered to submit three mutually-agreeable master candidates by 5 p.m. July 1.

 

Michigan Republican Party Chairperson Laura Cox said the Party "disagrees with the federal court's decision . . . and will support an appeal to uphold the will of Michigan voters."

 

An appeal would go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

The Democrats, however, praised the decision, while acknowledging the fight isn't over.

 

"We expect there to be a lot of legal process ahead of us," Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) said in a statement. "If, at the end of the day, we're to run in 2020, we will run robust races as we always have done."

 

The special election cuts in half the four-year term recently elected Senators are serving.

 

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said the MDP welcomes any decision that "permanently addresses the unconstitutional practice of gerrymandering."

 

House Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) called the court's opinion "damning."

 

"Its order is clear. House Democrats stand ready to work with our Republican colleagues to ensure that this partisan gerrymander is remedied and that new districts are fairly and constitutionally drawn," she said in a statement released late Thursday.

 

The suit, filed in December 2017 on behalf of the LWV against then-Republican SOS Ruth Johnson, who has been replaced by current Democratic SOS Benson, alleges the redistricting maps are an "egregious example of party gerrymandering."

 

"We are very pleased that the federal court today upheld all 34 of our challenges to congressional, state Senate and state House maps," LWV president Judy Karandjeff said. "We look forward to remedying all of these districts in time for the 2020 elections."

 

The federal panel included Clay of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood of Michigan's Eastern District, both of whom were former Democratic President Bill Clinton appointees. The third judge, U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist of Michigan's Western District was a former Republican President George H.W. Bush appointee. They ruled the mapmakers claimed to comply with the Apol criteria, but the evidence paints a different picture.

 

"The evidence points to only one conclusion: partisan considerations played a central role in every aspect of the redistricting process," Clay wrote.

 

Their decision was based on internal emails and documents submitted in the case that show Republican mapmakers discussed partisan data and boundaries, but GOP attorneys dispute that political considerations were a priority.

 

Whether the decision will ultimately stand, however, was openly questioned by political observers like Mark Grebner of Practical Political Consultants. He expected the decision to be reversed by an en banc appeals court panel or by the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

"I simply can't imagine the three-judge panel's decision going into effect," he said. "There are simply too many pressures on the side of the status quo: Republican courts, the lack of time for implementation, the disruption of the political system, the fact it would only apply to a single election, and, most of all, the bizarre idea of a special election for the state Senate, in a world of term limits. The winners would fight over whether they serve only 1½ terms or are eligible for 2½ terms.

 

Adrian Hemond of Grassroots Midwest said in reaction to the decision to "be patient." He noted that the decision will need to survive a "closely scrutinized appeal" and a Supreme Court that has a majority of appointees from Republican presidents.

 

Benson announced in late January a proposed consent agreement that could have seen 11 districts redrawn, but the federal court rejected the proposal.

 

Thursday's ruling will affect only the 2020 election because Michigan voters approved a new independent citizen redistricting commission to draw election lines for 2022 and beyond.

 

Voters Not Politicians (VNP), who led the ballot drive to create the commission, applauded the ruling.

 

"We hope the Legislature will draw this set of interim maps to represent voters, not politicians, just like 61% of Michigan voters supported in the last election," VNP Executive Director Nancy Wang said in a statement. "Voters Not Politicians is committed to ensuring the redistricting reform amendment is implemented in a fair, impartial, and transparent way to encourage broad, diverse public participation following the 2020 Census."

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