LANSING, MI – A panel of 3 federal court judges have ruled that 13 legislative districts in the state of Michigan were created unconstitutionally and ethnicity (race) of the citizens in these districts was likely a motivating factor in how the district lines were drawn.
The pivotal court decision on December 21st came after a panel of federal court judges, which included, Raymond Kethledge, a 6th Circuit Court of Appeals judge, Paul Maloney and Janet Neff, District court judges from the west side of Michigan heard testimony and evidence in a lawsuit that was filed back in March of 2022. The lawsuit was filed by a group of black residents and voters from Detroit who argued the new district lines that were drawn violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.
The Equal Protection Clause discourages states from drawing district maps that sort voters primarily by race. The Voting Rights Act goes a step further and requires areas, with a large black population for example, not be broken up by larger white districts, which would significantly reduce the influence of black voters in these areas.
The MICRC (Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission) was responsible for redrawing the district maps and expressed its disappointment in the federal judges’ decision to force them to redraw the district lines in 13 districts.
The MICRC was formed in 2018 and first utilized in 2021 after legislation lead by citizens of Michigan took the responsibility away from the state legislature in Michigan and transferred the responsibility to the MICRC, which claims to be a nonpartisan panel and claims to have no affiliation with any political parties in the state.
The MICRC consulted with experts and attorneys in the process of redrawing district lines. All of their conversations during the process were documented in a lengthy 10,000 page transcript. The legal team for the black Detroit voters who filed the lawsuit said the MICRC relied on legal guidance from Bruce Adelson and Julianne Pastula, who were helping MICRC and suggested MICRC draw the district lines based on race. Lisa Handley was also brought in by the MICRC to assist in redistricting because she was considered an expert in the field of redistricting.
Even though the court ruling was to force the MICRC to redraw the lines for only 13 districts, some experts say it isn’t that easy. It’s possible that more than just the 13 districts may have to be redrawn, which could potentially affect dozens of districts in Southeastern Michigan especially those that are in between or near the 13 districts named in the lawsuit.
This not only could affect dozens of districts, but it could also affect who controls the legislature in Lansing once the dust settles. Democrats and Republicans are at an even 54-54 split in the house because two Democrat representatives had to resign their seats after they won mayoral races in their respective districts.
So redrawing the district lines could mean a potential benefit for Republicans by gaining at least one or two seats to take the majority, depending on how the districts end up being redrawn. The panel of judges has suggested to Jocelyn Benson that she expedite her pressure on the MICRC in the redrawing of at least the 13 districts. This puts Benson under a tight time frame because applications for state representative campaigns are due on April 23rd of 2024.
The decision also ordered Benson to not hold any further elections in any of these 13 districts as they are currently drawn.
The court order states, “We enjoin the Secretary of State from holding further elections in these districts as they are currently drawn.” The court order also stated, “…and we will direct the parties to appear before this court in early January to discuss how to proceed with redrawing them.”
State Senator Kevin Daley (R) from Lapeer County told the Tribune “The redrawing of district boundaries carries significant consequences for the representation of our community in the Michigan Legislature. Upholding our constitutional values means ensuring that every citizen’s voice is heard, and that voting power is not weakened based on race. It is crucial for us to promptly and diligently tackle this issue.”
Adrian Hemond, CEO of the Lansing-based consulting firm Grassroots Midwest indicated that the MICRC was clearly in violation of racial gerrymandering, which is completely unconstitutional and that the confidence in the MICRC to redraw the lines is in question.
The 13 districts ordered to redrawn before the November 2024 Presidential election are as follows:
House District 1: Held by Rep. Tyrone Carter of Detroit.
House District 7: Held by Rep. Helena Scott of Detroit.
House District 8: Held by Rep. Mike McFall of Hazel Park.
House District 10: Held by House Speaker Joe Tate of Detroit.
House District 11: Held by Rep. Veronica Paiz of Harper Woods.
House District 12: Held by Rep. Kimberly Edwards of Eastpointe.
House District 14: Held by Rep. Donavan McKinney of Detroit.
Senate District 1: Held by Sen. Erika Geiss of Taylor.
Senate District 3: Held by Sen. Stephanie Chang of Detroit.
Senate District 6: Held by Sen. Mary Cavanagh of Redford Township.
Senate District 8: Held by Sen. Mallory McMorrow of Royal Oak.
Senate District 10: Held by Sen. Paul Wojno of Warren.
Senate District 11: Held by Sen. Veronica Klinefelt of Eastpointe.
The ordered redrawing of the 13 districts will significantly impact the elected representatives and their campaigns in these districts. They will have to campaign to a different demographic, which will be an additional challenge since they’ve only represented these districts for roughly 1 year.
The MICRC and the plaintiffs in the case (Detroit voters) have until Jan. 2 to file paperwork addressing how these affected districts should be redrawn.
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