Michigan Supreme Court Dismisses Lawsuit Regarding Newly Drawn Districts
On February 3, in a narrow 4-3 decision, the Michigan Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to the newly drawn legislative districts approved by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) late last year. The lawsuit was brought by the Detroit Caucus and alleged that the districts surrounding Detroit violated the federal Voting Rights Act by disenfranchising Black voters.
The maps were drafted and adopted by the MICRC, which is a citizen-led commission and consists of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, plus five independent members. The MICRC is the result of a 2018 ballot proposal which transferred the district-drawing process from the Michigan state legislature to the independent commission. The commission's work is not without criticism – the MICRC has been widely criticized for meeting behind closed doors, in contravention of an opinion published by the Attorney General and a prior Supreme Court case which ruled closed sessions were inappropriate and should be open to the public.
In addition to traditional redistricting measures like compactness, contiguity, and preservation of political subdivisions, the reworked Michigan Constitution requires the MICRC to consider “partisan fairness” when drawing districts. Pursuant to this goal, the commission sought to unpack Black voters in Detroit to create more democratic leaning districts, providing more proportional voter representation in the Detroit-area. The Detroit Caucus argued the MICRC went too far and eliminated congressional and state senate districts that were majority-minority, in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The lawsuit further alleged the reduction in the number of majority-minority districts in the state house also violated the Act.
The Court agreed with the expert analysis which showed crossover voting by White democrats made it possible for a preferred minority candidate to be elected, even without a majority minority district. It further found the Detroit Caucus failed to meet its burden of showing that a White voting bloc would dilute the vote of Black Detroiters such that it would be impossible for a candidate of color to win the democratic primaries.
The dissenting justices agreed that the Detroit Caucus had not provided concrete evidence to show minority voters had lost their opportunity to elect their preferred candidates but would have appointed an expert to evaluate the evidence put forth by the plaintiff, rather than dismiss the case.
It is unclear if the Detroit Caucus will try their hand in federal court over this issue. However, the MICRC is not out the woods yet. There remain two cases pending against the commission – one related to the state house map’s overall partisan fairness and the other related to the population deviance among the congressional districts.
If you have any questions about this decision or how it might affect your community, please contact a member of the firm’s election law group.