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Former, Current Black Lawmakers, Others Plan Challenge To Redistricting Maps

January 11, 2022

A group of current and former Black state legislators announced Monday their lawsuit challenging the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission’s (MICRC) newly adopted maps.

The suit, which attorney Nabih Ayad filed late Monday in the Michigan Supreme Court, alleges the maps dilute African American interests by “cracking, packing and retrogressing communities of color,” which the legislators argue means fewer majority-controlled districts of color.

“To allow for this to happen now is absolutely ludicrous and I hope that my colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle are not being blinded by the fact that they have the opportunity to win the House to where they’re going to allow the disenfranchisement of Black people,” said Rep. Tenisha Yancey (D-Detroit), Detroit Caucus Chair for District 1.

Yancey and former Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo agreed the MICRC did not “use the right data” when it used general election data – and not primary election data – when creating its maps, which were adopted Tuesday.

“They did not use the right data … (and) they did not use transparency,” Gay-Dagnogo said, referencing the closed-door meeting the MICRC held to discuss memos, including those about the U.S. Voting Rights Act (VRA), which the Michigan Supreme Court ordered released.

The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that the commission is in violation of the VRA, and the group seeks an injunction against the Commission to stop the new redistricting map from taking effect.

Ayad, who is representing the group, said during the morning press conference that  some plaintiffs were still signing the complaint and additional plaintiffs are “being added by the hour” while at least one big entity may join.

The suit will allege violations of the VRA and the state Constitution, Ayad said. 

“Unfortunately, the problem lies in the largest African American majority city in the nation,” the attorney said. “… The new redistricting map lines have unfairly discriminated against the city of Detroit, its residents and its elected officials.”

There was criticism throughout the process that Black neighborhoods were marginalized and left without a voice before the 13-member Commission – created via a 2018 ballot initiative – approved the Chestnut Congressional, the Linden State Senate, and the Hickory State House maps.

In response, MICRC spokesperson Edward Woods III said, “The MICRC has learned about an alleged lawsuit through media reports and inquiries. However, we have not been served. As shared previously, we believe in the advice of our Voting Rights Act Legal Counsel that we comply with the Voting Rights Act. Here is his counsel to the Commission.

The MICRC’s consultants repeatedly said there were other ways than establishing majority-minority districts to comply with the VRA while its VRA expert, Bruce Adelson, argued there’s evidence that white voters will vote for a Black candidate.

Yancey, who is term-limited, arguably disagreed as she noted Monday that she likely would not have made it through the primary because constituents in Grosse Pointe “did not vote for me, would not have voted for me, did not even open their doors for me.” 

Yancey noted a Grosse Pointe Facebook page claimed the choice was between two intelligent women candidates – presumably the two white candidates, who were attorneys like Yancey, who hold a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Michigan University and a juris doctorate from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

Jonathan C. Kinloch, chair of the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party Organization, said on the MIRS Monday podcast that in “many instances in minority communities the primary election is where these challenges are settled.” 

The MICRC, he noted, did not take variables related to “political reality” when drawing the maps nor the impact it would have on Detroit.

Kinloch said that his group wants a voice in the litigation, but whether the group will file its own complaint or move to intervene or file an amicus in another group’s suit has not been decided.

Kinloch said the strongest argument is a combination of both community interest and VRA, but it needs to be remembered that an argument of political bias may not apply because it was “done by a body that was created by the Constitution that was created … by the people.”

“I’m not sure how much of an appetite the courts will have in making too much of a drastic change in what we’re seeing,” he said. “Yes, I am disappointed in these maps, but I do believe that those members of that commission were actually trying to do something right. … But I don’t have that same sort of anger and outrage that I would if the Legislature have done it. …

“At the end of the day, I think that there may be some marginal changes, but I don’t think there will be substantial changes and the type of relief we would celebrate,” Kinloch added, noting that from a Black perspective the maps are worse than the previous maps, but “are more balanced” from a partisan perspective.

Among those supporting the suit are Reps. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit), Helena Scott (D-Detroit), Stephanie Young (D-Detroit), Mary Cavanagh (D-Redford), and Betty Jean Alexander (D-Detroit) as well as former state Rep. Teola P. Hunter, Inkster City Councilmember LaGina Washington, Councilmember Vice Pro Tem Virginia Williams, 14th Congressional District Executive Committee Member Carol Weaver, and Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus Chair Keith Williams, among others.

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