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First Redistricting Maps Challenge Dies In Court

February 9, 2022

The Michigan Supreme Court shot down a lawsuit Black voters filed against the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission’s maps on the basis too few districts being drawn in which a majority of voters are minorities, a U.S. Voting Rights Act requirement.

In a 4-3 decision, Justices Bridget McCormack, Megan Cavanagh, Elizabeth Clement and Elizabeth Welch  wrote that “majority-minorities districts” are only required under federal law and court precedent when it’s proven that white majority voters in a particular area vote as a bloc.

The plaintiffs — the Detroit Caucus, Romulus City Council, Rep. Tenisha Yancey (D-Detroit), Sen. Betty Jean Alexander (D-Detroit) and others — claimed that the fact there were zero majority-minority districts in the congressional and state Senate maps alone should have the maps thrown out on their face.

But the majority ruled that unless the Black voters can show through recent election data that majority white voters in urban centers vote for white candidates, thereby preventing a Black candidate from winning, the plaintiffs don’t have a case.

Instead, the Commission presented information from Wayne, Oakland, Genesee and Saginaw counties that show the opposite. “Significant” white-crossover voting for Black-preferred candidates has happened in recent elections, so there is no need to create majority-minority districts.

The remaining three justices — Justices Brian Zahra, Richard Bernstein and David Viviano — didn’t argue with the majority’s legal framework. It argued the case’s dismissal was premature.

They would have appointed an independent expert to assist the Court in assessing the evidence and factual assertions presented and an opportunity to explore the issues deeper.

The minority ruled the dismissal of the case at this juncture was neither common practice nor in compliance with court rules. The case went directly to the Supreme Court. There was no trial court to develop a record or gather evidence through discovery. “We are at the pleading stage,” wrote Zahra for the minority. “If this were a typical case, the trial court would examine the legal sufficiency of the pleadings and could not dismiss the complaint at this stage of the proceedings solely because of plaintiffs’ failure to produce all the relevant supporting evidence. That is the situation here.”

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