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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a bid to overturn lower federal court rulings ordering Michigan’s redistricting commission to redraw 13 state legislatures in and around Detroit, which will make them more competitive.
Federal courts ordered state officials to redraw the state House and Senate districts after declaring them unconstitutional, thereby overturning a significant portion of the maps drawn in 2021 by Michigan’s inaugural Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.
According to The Detroit News, “the three-judge panel ordered the Secretary of State to refrain from holding elections in those districts until they are redrawn in compliance with the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”
The redistricting commission filed an appeal with the Supreme Court to overturn a December decision by a three-judge federal appeals court panel that found that race had improperly influenced Michigan’s legislative maps during their creation in 2021. The panel’s ruling highlighted that despite almost 80 percent of Detroit residents being black, the black voting age population in the 13 Detroit-area districts predominantly ranged from 35 percent to 45 percent, with one district as low as 19 percent, The Associated Press reported.
The panel mandated the redrawing of boundaries for the seven state House districts in time for the 2024 election. Additionally, it established a later deadline for the six state Senate districts as the senators’ terms do not expire until 2026, the report continued.
“A drafted state House map is due by Feb. 2 and a final deadline is March 29,” the AP added.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court did not explain not taking up the case. John Bursch, an attorney for the Detroit voters who sued the commission, said they were “very pleased” with the high court’s decision. Bursch said the commission could still appeal, but he called the Supreme Court’s order “a strong indicator that such an appeal will likely fail.”
David Dulio, a political science professor at Oakland University in Michigan, suggested to the AP that while the specifics of the new maps are uncertain, it is probable that there will be a rise in the count of “Detroit-focused” districts that would strongly lean Democratic. This shift could potentially influence the competitiveness of districts in the suburbs, making them more contested.
“You could see these districts, or even a subset of them, really be where the fight for control of the state House is,” Dulio said.
In 2022, Michigan Democrats managed to secure control of both the state House and Senate while also retaining the governor’s office, thereby obtaining complete control of the state government for the first time in 40 years. The Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission’s redrawing of legislative maps in 2021 is partially to blame for the party’s success.
Before 2018, state legislators designated Michigan’s seats in Congress and the Legislature. However, after voters established an independent commission, this decennial responsibility was transferred to them. The commission’s first set of maps was created for the 2022 election.
In 2021, experts consistently guided the redistricting commission regarding specific racial percentage requirements to comply with federal law. But the appeals court panel disagreed.
“The record here shows overwhelmingly—indeed, inescapably—that the commission drew the boundaries of plaintiffs’ districts predominantly based on race. We hold that those districts were drawn in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” Judge Raymond Kethledge wrote in the appeals ruling.
According to the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, the redistricting process had diminished the count of majority-minority districts in the Legislature from 15 to five.
In the 2022 midterms, the initial election after redistricting, the number of black lawmakers in the Legislature dwindled from 20 to 17. Moreover, Detroit, a predominantly black city, found itself without black representation in Congress for the first time since the early 1950s, the AP noted.