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Legislative District Maps Found To Violate Voting Rights Act

January 1, 2024

Any future elections in a combined 13 Metro Detroit legislative districts are on hold after a federal panel ruled Thursday that the race-based drawing of Michigan’s 2021 House and Senate redistricting maps was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. 

The three-judge panel ruled Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) followed the advice of a team of experts that as long as they limited their black voting age population to between 35 and 45 percent, the maps would comply with the U.S. Voting Rights Act. 

But in mentioning “scores if not hundreds of times” that they were sorting Detroit-area voters into districts, the record shows “almost oceanic” evidence that redistricting commissioners intended to draw boundaries on the basis of race. 

The judges showed some empathy for the commissioners, 13 people who were led by the nose by their “voting rights act legal counsel,” who assured the MICRC that any legislative districts in which Black voters made up more than 45% of the population amounted to “packing.” 

Attorney Bruce Adelsonand political scientist Lisa Handleyprovided a “grave disservice to everyone involved in the case, above all the voters themselves” when they assured commissioners that black-preferred candidates would “perform well” in the challenged districts – House Districts 1, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12 and 14 and Senate Districts 1, 3, 6, 8, 10 and 11 – based on general election alone, the court ruled. 

Adelson was mentioned by name 155 times in the 116-page decision and Handley 110 times. 

The references were so numerous, Judge Janet Neffwrote separately to say both Adelson and Handley are “highly respected in the redistricting field” and the Commission did the best it could under a challenging situation. 

Still, the upshot is the parties in the case are going to show up to court in early January to discuss how the maps will be redrawn and whether the process will include only these 13 districts or the entire House and Senate maps. 

An appeal is expected, although nothing was announced officially on this front. 

“It’s an extremely great day for the people of Detroit,” said former Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, a lead plaintiff in the case, Donald Ageev. Jocelyn Benson. “This is for the people who were left out of the process, who didn’t have access to transparency.  

“Ray Charlescould see this was wrong. I’m grateful to our judges who ruled the right way – that Brightmoor and Birmingham don’t belong together, that Jefferson-Chalmers and St. Clair Shores don’t belong together. Black representation matters.” 

MICRC Executive Director Edward WoodsIII said the MICRC is aware and disappointed by the court’s decision.

In the immediate term, there’s a question whether Thursday’s decision impacts the special House elections in the 13th and 25th House districts in Westland and Warren, districts left open by the resignation of former Reps. Lori Stoneand Kevin Coleman. 

While the 13th and 25th weren’t mentioned in the suit, the 13th is sandwiched between two illegal districts – the 12th and the 14th. Commissioner Anthony Eid said during his testimony to the federal court panel that redrawing the challenged districts would mean redrawing the entire maps. 

Asked about the possibility Thursday, House Republican Leader Matt Hall (R-Kalamazoo)said, “It seems like you’d have to adjust these districts to fix the illegal ones. I don’t have a clear answer, but it seems like there’s an argument there.” 

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes, however, said the special elections are “expected to proceed as planned.” However, the judges didn’t mention the special elections in their ruling one way or the other.

The repercussions here are that if Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s special elections for early next year must be canceled to prevent elections in House districts based on an unconstitutional map, the House’s partisan split of 54-54 could remain for most of 2024. 

House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) declined to jump the gun, saying House Democrats will await further direction from the courts regarding next steps. 

“House Democrats have made clear our commitment to putting people first by prioritizing the issues that matter most to Michiganders: putting dollars back in their pockets, protecting access to reproductive care, passing common sense gun violence prevention laws, and much more,” Tate said. 

“We benefit from passionate and dedicated members and are confident in our ability to retain and grow our majority.” 

Article courtesy MIRS News for SBAM’s Lansing Watchdog e-newsletter

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