WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request from Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission’s (MICRC) seeking to halt a district court order requiring a redraw of the state’s legislative maps.
Today’s Supreme Court action comes on the heels of a December 2023 ruling from a three-judge district court panel striking down 13 Detroit-area Michigan House and Senate districts for being unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. All three judges on the panel were appointed by Republican presidents.
The panel’s ruling — which stemmed from a federal lawsuit brought by Black voters — concluded that “the Commission drew the boundaries of plaintiffs’ districts predominantly on the basis of race” in violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Although the plaintiffs also brought claims under the Voting Rights Act, the panel did not rule on the merits of those claims, instead centering its ruling solely on racial gerrymandering.
Under federal law, the December 2023 decision could be directly appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court because it was issued by a three-judge panel and involved claims brought under the U.S. Constitution.
Shortly after the ruling, the MICRC voted to appeal the three-judge panel’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, after which the commission officially filed an emergency request asking the Court to pause the panel’s decision. In its request, the MICRC stated 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.”
According to the filing, despite the commission’s bona fide, expert-informed attempts to comply with Section 2 of the VRA, the three-judge panel nevertheless held that it impermissibly used race in drawing the districts. As the MICRC’s request to the Supreme Court emphasized, Section 2 requires race-conscious redistricting in certain circumstances to protect minority voters from discrimination — a precedent that the Court recently affirmed in its 2023 Allen v. Milligan decision.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) filed a separate brief in the U.S. Supreme Court urging it to grant the commission’s request to pause the panel’s ruling. On the other hand, the attorney for the plaintiffs — former Republican state solicitor general John Bursch — wrote in a filing to the Supreme Court that the MICRC “invite[s] this Court to plunge prematurely into ongoing lower court proceedings that seek to correct one of the most egregious racial gerrymanders in recent history.”
With today’s order denying the MICRC’s request to pause the panel’s ruling, the commission will need to proceed in redrawing seven Michigan House districts by Feb. 2. After receiving public comments regarding its proposed plan, the commission will submit a map to the court on March 1. The court will ultimately select a final remedial House redistricting plan by March 29.
Meanwhile, the district court has appointed a special redistricting expert to propose new legislative districts which could be implemented if “the court has significant concerns regarding the legality of the Commission’s proposed redistricting plan.”
Per the district court’s most recent scheduling order, “[t]he schedule for redrawing the unconstitutional Senate districts will be the subject of a later scheduling order.”