WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) has released a slate of draft maps for the Michigan House after being ordered to do so by a federal three-judge panel.
The 10 separate maps were created in the leadup to the Feb. 2 court-imposed deadline to release draft proposals reconfiguring seven Metro Detroit state House seats. The MICRC developed nine proposals as a whole, and a lone independent member of the commission released the 10th map.
Thirteen Michigan House and Senate districts were struck down in December for being unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The federal panel, which was composed entirely of Republican-appointed judges, concluded that the districts violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and that the commission drew the boundaries of Black voters’ districts predominantly on the basis of race.
Voting Rights Act counsel for the MICRC has told the commission that at least 11 Metro Detroit state House districts should provide a minority community the chance to elect a candidate of its choice, which the counsel says requires more than 50% of the district to be composed of that community. That is different from the advice the commission received from a previous expert when it drew the current maps, which was that Black voters did not need to make up 50% of a district in order to elect a candidate of their choice.
The commission, which is bipartisan and independent of the Legislature, had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the order to redraw, and argued that it “did everything this Court’s Voting Rights Act (VRA) and racial-gerrymandering precedents signals is necessary for voluntary VRA compliance, and it was not possible to do more than the Commission did.” Two weeks ago, the Court denied that request, greenlighting an extremely quick deadline to redraw.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) had previously expressed concern about the timeline to redraw, arguing that the lower court order “threatens an orderly administration” of the upcoming August primary elections.
The MICRC was ordered to submit proposed House maps by Feb. 2 and adopt final maps by March 1, after which they would be reviewed by the three-judge district court panel in order to implement them by March 29. The court has not yet set the timeline for the redraw of the six Senate districts.
The lawsuit and particularly the order striking down the map have been subject to scrutiny from some Democrats, the MICRC, experts and professors in the state. The lawsuit was filed by Republican attorneys (one of whom was a state solicitor general for former GOP Attorney General Bill Schuette.) The GOP lost full control of the Legislature for the first time in four decades thanks in large part to the process being taken out of Republican legislators hands, who had egregiously gerrymandered the state to entrench Republican power for generations.
Some Democrats have called the lawsuit a Republican “power grab.” Nicholas Stephanopoulos — an election law expert and professor at Harvard Law School — described the decision as “troubling” because the commissioners were relying on extensive input from experts in drawing the lines with the intent of avoiding both racial gerrymandering and Voting Rights Act liability, according to Bloomberg. Two professors, who teach in Detroit and have published a paper covering the MICRC, have also warned that the forced redraw may not even help elect more Black candidates.
Jamie Lyons-Eddy, who serves as the executive director of Voters Not Politicians, which orchestrated the 2018 constitutional amendment to create the MICRC, has expressed confidence in the commission, saying, “we are confident that they are going to get it done and that they will have maps submitted that will meet all of the constitutional criteria and that the court will find legal.”
Public hearings for the House maps will take place on three separate days in the coming weeks: Feb. 15, Feb. 21 and Feb. 22. If the final map submitted by the commission does not meet legal muster in the eyes of the court, a map proposed by a court-appointed expert could be used instead.