WASHINGTON, D.C. — Michigan and Wisconsin will have new legislative maps in time for the 2024 elections after two separate courts handed down rulings in late December.
On Dec. 21, a federal three-judge panel struck down 13 Michigan House and Senate districts for being unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. This decision stems from a lawsuit filed on behalf of Black voters who argued that the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission intentionally lowered the percentage of Black voters in certain House and Senate districts without a justified interest and used race as the predominant factor in drawing legislative districts, resulting in racially gerrymandered maps in violation of the 14th Amendment. The voters also argued that the districts violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by depriving Black voters of an adequate number of districts in the Detroit area where they can elect candidates of their choice.
After a trial in November 2023, the three-judge panel concluded that the Detroit area districts violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, but did not rule on the plaintiffs’ Section 2 claims. “The record here shows overwhelmingly—indeed, inescapably—that the Commission drew the boundaries of plaintiffs’ districts predominantly on the basis of race,” the opinion reads.
Immediately to the west of Michigan, in a highly anticipated 4-3 ruling, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 22 that the state’s legislative maps violate the Wisconsin constitution and must be redrawn for the 2024 elections. This decision marks the first major redistricting case decided by the Wisconsin Supreme Court after Justice Janet Protasiewicz was elected to the court in April 2022, shifting the court’s composition from majority conservative to majority liberal. Later in the year, Wisconsin voters filed a lawsuit in state court arguing that Wisconsin’s legislative districts violate multiple provisions of the state constitution , as well as the constitutional requirement that districts be contiguous.
The petitioners also argued that the legislative districts violated the state constitution’s separation of powers rule, since the districts — which were ultimately imposed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in April 2022 — are the very same maps that the governor vetoed and the Legislature failed to override.
Ultimately, the Wisconsin Supreme Court concluded that the Wisconsin Elections Commission cannot use the current legislative maps for future elections as they violate the Wisconsin Constitution. The court held that the maps include districts that are not contiguous (not touching) and therefore violate the state constitution.
“In total, at least 50 assembly districts and at least 20 senate districts include separate, detached parts. That is to say, a majority of the districts in both the assembly and the senate do not consist of ‘contiguous territory,’” the court concluded. The court ordered the Legislature to adopt remedial maps, but stated that if the Legislature fails to do so, the court is “prepared” to step in and adopt remedial plans.