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Federal Judges Order Michigan To Redraw 13 House, Senate Districts

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


Federal courts have ordered Michigan officials to redraw 13 House and Senate districts after declaring them unconstitutional, thereby overturning a significant portion of the maps drawn in 2021 by Michigan’s inaugural Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

According to The Detroit News, “the three-judge panel ordered the Secretary of State to refrain from holding elections in those districts until they are redrawn in compliance with the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

The substantial court ruling on Thursday could have far-reaching implications for the 2024 election, potentially necessitating the reshaping of neighboring districts and influencing the party that controls the Michigan Legislature, the outlet noted.

In their decision issued on Thursday, federal judges Raymond Kethledge, Paul Maloney, and Janet Neff stated that the commission’s experts had relied on incomplete primary data to establish black voting age percentages. These percentages were intended to ensure that a black-preferred candidate could successfully go from the primary to the general election. The information played a crucial role in the Detroit area, where primary elections largely determine the final outcome, the Detroit News added.

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“Yet these experts told the commissioners again and again — based on general election data alone — that black-preferred candidates would ‘perform well’ in these districts,” the opinion said. “That was a grave disservice to everyone involved with this case, above all the voters themselves.”

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission said it was aware of and disappointed in the three-judge panel’s decision. The commission stated that it would provide a more detailed response after thoroughly reviewing the 116-page ruling.

Both the redistricting commission and the Black Detroit Democrats, who contested the maps, have until January 2 to submit briefs outlining how legislative district boundaries should be redrawn.

“We’re thrilled that the court unanimously ruled that the challenged districts are illegal and that Black voters in Detroit were disenfranchised,” John Bursch, an attorney for the Black Detroiters who challenged the maps, told the outlet.

“The court has rightly said that the maps can no longer be used, and we look forward to working with the court and commission to draw new maps that ensure everyone’s rights are respected.”

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who was a defendant in the case, said in a Thursday statement she would continue to carry out her “ministerial responsibilities to the commission.”

“Her priority and role remains ensuring all voters and candidates have the clarity they need to fully participate in all elections and working with clerks to ensure any changes in districts are effectively communicated to all who are impacted,” said Angela Benander, a spokeswoman for Benson.

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In September, a federal court struck down a congressional redistricting map signed into law by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey in July because it failed to create a second majority-black district, according to reports.

The decision follows a heated legal dispute regarding the redrawing of congressional districts in the state. A three-judge panel, consisting of Judge Stanley Marcus, appointed by President Clinton, along with Judges Anna Manasco and Terry Moorer, appointed by President Trump, invalidated Alabama’s revised maps in 2022 after ruling that the state should have established two voting districts with a majority of black voters.

Currently, Alabama’s seventh congressional district is the only majority-black voting district in the state, despite Alabama’s 27 percent black population. That district is represented by the state’s lone Democrat, Rep. Terri Sewell, Breitbart News reported.

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“In June, a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling, ordering Alabama’s legislature to redraw the maps again to include a second majority-black district or ‘something quite close to it,’” the outlet noted.

However, Alabama’s legislature opted to pass a new map that retained just one majority-Black district and increased the Black voting population in a second district from 30 percent to 40.

The three judges expressed significant concern over the absence of a second majority-Black voting district in the latest maps.

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