US Supreme Court won’t stop metro Detroit redrawn maps

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request Monday from Michigan’s redistricting commission to temporarily suspend a lower court order barring use of the current state legislative maps in future elections ruled unconstitutional by a three-judge panel late last year.

The panel found that the group of randomly selected citizen mappers responsible for drawing the lines violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution which prohibits drawing districts on the basis of race when they drew the lines that run through Detroit, a majority-Black city.

The panel ordered the redistricting commission to redraw the seven state House maps ruled unconstitutional by publishing new maps by Feb. 2. The panel also ordered the commission to solicit public comment on the new lines, holding at least one public hearing in Detroit by Feb. 23. The commission has until March to submit a final state House map to the panel.

The three-judge panel did not rule on allegations in the lawsuit brought by the group of Detroit area voters who sued the commission and alleged that the Detroit-based state legislative maps violate the federal Voting Rights Act. That law requires drawing voting districts in certain places that provide an opportunity for protected racial minorities to elect their preferred candidates.

The latest action from the U.S. Supreme Court leaves the current mapping deadlines. The commission had hoped that the nation’s high court would suspend the redrawing process while the mappers appeal the lower court’s opinion invalidating its work.

The redistricting commission is currently in the process of drawing new state House maps and has scheduled in-person meetings in Detroit this week to solicit input from those impacted by its redraw.

In 2018, Michigan voters approved a new process for drawing congressional and state legislative voting districts in the state, putting a group of randomly selected citizens in charge of the mapping process with a mandate to draw fair maps. But a group of metro Detroit voters sued the inaugural redistricting commission, alleging the new state legislative maps illegally disenfranchised Black voters by diminishing their political power. Their lawsuit receiving financial backing from a group affiliated with GOP operative Tony Daunt whose lawsuit to try to stop the citizen-led mapping process failed.

The three-judge panel − all appointees of former President George W. Bush, a Republican − rejected a previous request from the redistricting commission to halt the redraw it ordered. The commission then turned to the U.S Supreme Court with an emergency application addressed to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Kavanagh, the justice assigned to the circuit that includes Michigan. The order from U.S. Supreme Court Monday reads: “The application for stay presented to Justice Kavanagh and by him referred to the Court is denied.” It gave no explanation for the decision.

The court’s order does not prevent the commission from continuing to seek an appeal of the three-judge panel’s decision invalidating more than a dozen metro Detroit state legislative districts it drew. Edward Woods III, the executive director for the redistricting commission, did not immediately indicate whether the commission will re-evaluate its decision seeking an appeal. He said the commission remains focused on complying with the panel’s order to draw new maps. Meanwhile, John Bursch − an attorney representing the Detroit area voters who sued the commission − said the U.S. Supreme Court’s order is a sign the court may reject an appeal.

In its request asking the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the lower court’s injunction and halt the redrawing process, the commission argued that the mappers’ used race to draw voting districts in metro Detroit to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act which prohibits racially discriminatory voting practices.

Michigan redistricting commission: How metro Detroiters can weigh in on new state House maps

During the mapping process, the commission’s voting rights experts told the novice mappers that the old GOP-drawn maps in place last decade excessively concentrated Black voters in a small number of districts in Detroit, limiting their electoral influence. By spreading Black voters in Detroit across more districts by pairing neighborhoods in the city with suburban communities, some commissioners said while mapping that they expanded the number of opportunities for Black voters to elect their preferred candidates.

Even with the U.S. Supreme Court’s order allowing the redraw process to proceed in advance of the 2024 election, a filing with the court last week from Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson raised the prospect her office may struggle to implement new voting districts in time for the Aug. 6 state House primary elections. New district lines require updating the state’s qualified voter file and potentially adjusting the boundaries for voting precinct among other election administration tasks.

Benson did not weigh in on whether the redistricting commission illegally drew lines based on race. But she asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hit pause on the redrawing of state House maps underway, saying “it remains uncertain whether the Secretary can put in place district changes without risk of error or disruption to the August 2024 primary election.”

Contact Clara Hendrickson at [email protected] or 313-296-5743. Follow her on X, previously called Twitter, @clarajanehen.

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