Lawsuit arguing racial gerrymandering in Michigan’s legislative districts to go to trial

By: - August 30, 2023 12:59 pm

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission holds a public hearing in Lansing. Photo by Anna Gustafson

A case brought by 20 metro Detroit voters raising concerns about Michigan’s new voting districts lowering Black voter percentages in Detroit-area districts will go to trial, a three judge panel in a Michigan federal court determined this week.

At the end of 2021, the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) approved the new voting districts that will be used for the next decade for elections for the state Legislature and U.S. House. Michigan voters approved the constitutional amendment in 2018 that created the panel of four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents to draw the new lines, instead of allowing the Legislature to design the maps.

Supporters of the new system for Michigan had said the commission would help curb the deliberate manipulation of voting lines that favors one political party over another.

2022 Michigan state House map | Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission

However, the lawsuit that the three judges examined this week, accuses the commission of creating a voter map that stifles the power of Black voters and their ability to elect representation that reflects them.

The maps the commission adopted altered districts around Detroit, where 77% of city residents are Black, and extended lines to include suburban voters. The old maps had some districts at over 90% Black voter majorities, and now the area’s districts have been reduced to 35 to 55% Black majorities.

Judge Raymond Kethledge said in the court order Tuesday that the crux of the trial is whether the commission can show it had a good legal reason to dilute Black voter percentages in Detroit-area districts. The other two judges, Paul Maloney and Janet Neff, signed off on the court order. All three judges were appointed by former President George W. Bush, a Republican.

African-American leaders lament loss of Black representation for Detroit

The commission continues to back the maps they made with Commissioner Steven T. Lett, who acts as the legal liaison for the group, saying via a statement this week, “We are fully confident in our legal team to defend our fair maps at trial.”

Although the judges did not send all the districts over for trial court’s consideration, the majority are heading to trial: House Districts 1, 7, 10, 12 and 14, as well as Senate Districts 1, 3, 6 and 8.

Under the new maps, used for the first time in the 2022 election, Democrats seized the majority in both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in 40 years. However, there are fewer Black state legislators than there were before the November 2022 election.

A separate lawsuit that made similar accusations about the commission was dismissed by the Michigan Supreme Court in February 2022.


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Anna Liz Nichols
Anna Liz Nichols

Anna Liz Nichols covers government and statewide issues, including criminal justice, environmental issues, education and domestic and sexual violence. Anna is a former state government reporter for The Associated Press and most recently was a reporter for the Detroit News. Anna is a graduate of Michigan State University.