Detroit — Michigan must redraw legislative and congressional districts for the 2020 election because current maps drawn by Republicans represent a political gerrymander “of historical proportions,” a three-judge federal panel ruled Thursday.
The blockbuster ruling — which the GOP will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court — requires Michigan to conduct special state Senate elections for certain seats next year, cutting in half the four-year terms that current lawmakers are now serving.
The “predominate purpose” of the redistricting plan approved by the Michigan Legislature in 2011 “was to subordinate the interests of Democratic voters and entrench Republicans in power,” said the unanimous decision written by U.S. Circuit Court Judge Eric Clay, an appointee of Democratic President Bill Clinton.
“Therefore, the enacted plan constitutes a durable partisan gerrymander” that violates the First and 14th Amendment rights of plaintiff voters, the court concluded.
The panel is giving the Republican-led House and Senate until Aug. 1 to redraw the maps and get them signed into law by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The judges said they want all the parties and processes used in the redistricting process to be made public, including any alternative plans that the Legislature rejects.
If state officials do not finalize new maps by then, the federal court would draw new boundaries itself and could appoint a special master to do so.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Michigan and some aggrieved Democrats. The complaint was eventually narrowed down to target 34 of the state’s 162 congressional and legislative districts that would need to be redrawn, along with any bordering districts they impact.
The state’s current boundaries dilute the weight of Democratic voters by “packing or cracking” them into certain districts, the panel ruled.
“Partisan gerrymandering can injure voters’ First Amendment rights by subjecting members of the disfavored party to discrimination because of their viewpoints,” Clay wrote.
Joining Clay in the decision was Detroit U.S. District Court Judge Denise Page Hood, who was also appointed by Clinton, and Grand Rapids U.S. District Court Judge Gordon Quist, an appointee of Republican former President George H.W. Bush.
High court appeal certain
The U.S. Supreme Court last month heard oral arguments in alleged partisan gerrymandering cases from North Carolina and Maryland and “will be ruling in the coming months on the exact issue at play here,” said attorney Charlie Spies, who is representing Republicans in the Michigan case.
“We will likely seek a stay and urge caution in drawing conclusions from this opinion, which we believe is at odds with where the Supreme Court will end up.”
The high court’s conservative majority has been wary of having federal judges decide when electoral district maps are…