U.S. Supreme Court won’t halt redrawing of legislative districts in Detroit

Detroit — The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a motion to halt a lower court ruling requiring the state’s redistricting commission to redraw 13 state House and Senate districts based in Detroit.

The short order was recorded in the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission’s Supreme Court docket Monday afternoon as the commission held its first in-person meeting to redraw legislative district boundaries in Detroit.

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who handles cases falling within the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, referred the case to the full court, which denied the request for a stay.

The denial means the redistricting commission must continue its map drawing while an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is pending. It’s unlikely any final decision from the nation’s highest court will come down before the House redraw is complete.

Former state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo said Monday she was ecstatic about the unanimous decision to deny a stay.

“We knew on the merits of this case that African American voters were disenfranchised in this process,” Gay-Dagnogo said, adding that the Supreme Court order underscored that belief. “My heart is overjoyed today.”

More: Detroit map redraw for Black voters prompts concerns from Arab Americans, Hispanics

Jennifer Green, an attorney for the Detroiters who challenged the maps, said the prompt rejection reflected the thoroughness of the December opinion ordering the commission to redraw legislative district boundaries in and around Detroit.

“The plaintiffs are hopeful this motivates the commission to focus on fixing the maps, and quickly, to avoid hundreds of thousands of Black voters across Metro Detroit from living under racially gerrymandered maps for another election cycle,” Green said.

The commission Friday said it would continue to work to meet the deadline set for it. Currently, the commission must have draft maps prepared for public comment by Feb. 2 and there’s a deadline of March 29 for the court’s final adoption of the maps.

“In drawing fair maps with citizen input, we’re happy to be in Detroit this week for in-person meetings to hear from all Michiganders, including those directly impacted by the reconfiguration of the seven districts for the Michigan House of Representatives,” said Edward Woods, executive director for the commission.

In December, a federal panel comprised of two district judges and one appellate judge ruled 13 state House and Senate seats in Detroit violated the Equal Protection Clause because they were drawn with race as the predominating factor. Judges Raymond Kethledge, Paul Maloney and Janet Neff ordered the 13 districts be redrawn and prohibited the districts from being used in future elections.

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission asked the U.S. Supreme Court to grant a stay while it prepared an appeal.

While it waited for a decision on the stay, commissioners were forced under the lower court order to begin redrawing of the overturned district boundaries. It began that process last week, and continued Monday with a day-long meeting at Huntington Place in downtown Detroit.

Kethledge, Maloney and Neff also are appointing two special masters to assist in the redraw; one will redraw maps that the judges will consider only if the commission is unable to come up with timely and compliant maps and another will review the maps of the commission and the special master to make recommendations to the federal panel on the plans’ compliance.

The commission estimated last week that the special masters’ work will cost it another $320,000.

The redistricting commission is under an extremely tight timeline in order to have the maps prepared and the qualified voter file updated in time for the August House primary. It must have draft maps ready for a public comment period Feb. 2 and the final product is scheduled to be adopted by the federal panel by March 29.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office estimates it will take several weeks after the March 29 adoption of the maps to update the state’s qualified voter file with the new information on which districts candidates and voters are assigned to. The office has a hard and fast deadline to complete the updates by June 7, 60 days before the August primary election for House seats.

Benson’s office said earlier this month they’d be able to meet that deadline if maps were complete by late March. But in a later filing to the U.S. Supreme Court, Benson’s office asked for a stay of the order requiring the maps to be used for the 2024 House election, arguing the office was uncertain it could meet the June 7 deadline.

Detroiters on Monday took issue with Benson’s filing, calling it a “slap in the face to Detroiters” who were disenfranchised under the gerrymandered maps.

“I’m very disappointed that she did that, as someone who’s watched her grow and supported her,” Gay-Dagnogo said of Benson.

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