As time runs short, federal judges weigh process to redraw some Michigan legislative districts ⋆
It would be a “foolhardy” gamble for the court to put all its chips on the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) fixing its legislative maps given current circumstances, U.S. Circuit Judge Raymond M. Kethledge said Friday as he and two other federal judges attempted in a Kalamazoo court to chart the best path forward as another statewide election looms.
In a unanimous decision last year, Kethledge and U.S. District Court Judges Paul L. Maloney and Janet T. Neff, sided with a group of Black metro Detroit voters who raised legal action against the new voting districts the commission drew in 2021. On Dec. 21, the judges found that the MICRC had drawn several of its voting districts based primarily off of race, leading to Black voting power in metro Detroit being diluted.
The judges ruled that 13 state House and Senate districts in the Detroit area be redrawn. Now the judges, commission and plaintiffs who brought the legal action are trying to work out solutions alongside the Secretary of State’s Office to ensure maps can be redrawn and ready for elections this year.
Bombshell ruling requires 13 Michigan districts to be redrawn before 2024 election
The MICRC was created by a 2018 constitutional amendment passed by voters. The 13-member body has four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents and drew the maps used for the first time during the 2022 election. Previously, the Legislature would design new districts every 10 years and the governor would sign off.
In recent weeks, the “posture of the commission has been defiance and disarray,” Kethledge said.
Judges decided to deny the MICRC’s request to pause the court’s decision to require the panel to redraw the districts. Executive Director Edward Woods III told reporters after court that the commission will file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, as members voted to do during a Thursday meeting.
The main idea on the table for the judges moving forward is a “parallel special master” scenario where a special master is selected to immediately begin work on redrawing the 13 districts with as little disturbance to the other district lines as possible, while the MICRC also works to rework its maps. Then the court will review both options.
“Everybody gets what they want,” Kethledge said, arguing that solution balances both the plaintiffs’ desire to have a special master draw maps and the MICRC’s desire to have a second chance to rectify issues from the maps members drew.
There are other options on the table, like allowing the MICRC to present its maps and gain approval before the maps of the special master are considered.
Maloney was adamant that time was of the essence and asked both sides if they were amicable to working together to think of three names they both approved of to be considered for the special master position within 48 hours.
The filing deadline for the 2024 election is April 23. It took the commission more than a year to approve the maps at the end of 2021 that were used for the 2022 election.
Attorneys on both sides expressed confidence in coming to an agreement, with both already expressing that Michael Young, an associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University was a good candidate due to previous non-partisan affiliated work on similar issues.
Despite the judges expressing, at numerous points on Friday, their personal apprehension of the MICRC’s ability to adjust the maps in the timely manner required to ensure legislative races this year continue without a hitch, Woods told media after court that “the commission will have the maps done. It won’t be an issue.”
Future meeting dates will likely be set by Thursday, Woods said, as members are sending in dates for which they may have conflicts in the coming weeks. Dates for three public hearings with Detroit-area residents will be proposed next week.
“We want to hear from all the people of Detroit. As it relates to Black voters, as you know, I am Black. We are sensitive to the needs of all Black voters, whether they’re aligned with the plaintiff or whether they’re not aligned with the plaintiff, we want to hear from all the voters in Detroit and we want to make sure that their questions are answered,” Woods said.
The MICRC has gone through recent upheaval, and three of the commissioners had their first day this week.
Over the last few weeks, three commissioners resigned after the judges’ decision to throw out some of their district boundaries. One member cited a professional move out of state, another commissioner cited health issues. One didn’t wholly identify a reason for resigning but said, “I trust another person with fresh legs, and fresh reasoning will be able to do more democratic debate, and drawing than this weary soul.”
authored by Anna Liz Nichols
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