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Federal Court Orders Redrawing of Michigan Legislative Districts

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to not intervene in the redrawing of Michigan’s state legislative districts marks a significant development in electoral politics. This comes after a federal court found the district maps violated the federal Voting Rights Act, prompting a need for redrafting ahead of Michigan’s primary election.

Supreme Court’s Decision on Michigan Districts

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to block the redrawing of Michigan’s state legislative districts. This follows a federal court’s ruling that the existing maps violated the federal Voting Rights Act.

Rejection of Emergency Application

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The Court rejected an emergency application from the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. The application sought to stay the lower court’s finding that the commission-drafted maps violated the Voting Rights Act.

Voting Rights Act Compliance

The Voting Rights Act prohibits voting practices that discriminate based on race, color, or language minority status. The commission’s maps for 13 districts were found to be in violation of this act.

Previous Alabama Case Precedent

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The Supreme Court previously declined to weaken Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in a case involving Alabama’s electoral map. That ruling upheld that Alabama’s map was racially discriminatory.

The Federal Court’s Involvement

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The stay application in Michigan’s case was denied without dissent. This decision was made without an explanation and was referred to the full court by Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Plaintiffs’ Argument

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Plaintiff-respondent Donald Agee Jr. and other voters argued that the Michigan commission drew districts primarily based on racial criteria, violating federal law.

Commission’s Role and Composition

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The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, responsible for drawing election districts, consists of randomly selected citizens with no redistricting or election law experience.

Expert Assistance for the Commission

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Commission members enlisted experts, including a voting rights act legal counsel and a political scientist, to guide the redistricting process and ensure compliance with federal law.

District Court Blocks Maps

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In December 2023, a district court panel blocked the use of the commission’s maps for future elections. The judges, appointed by President George W. Bush, found that the maps were drawn predominantly based on race.

Extensive Documentation of Decisions

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The commission kept detailed records of their redistricting process. The court found that these records clearly showed a heavy reliance on expert advice, particularly regarding compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

Advisory on Black Voting Age Population

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Experts advised the commission to limit the black voting age population in each district, a proposition unsupported by Supreme Court caselaw. The commission followed this advice despite reservations and objections.

Violation of Equal Protection Clause

The court concluded that the districts were drawn predominantly based on race, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. This led to the injunction against using the maps.

Redrawing of Districts by Special Masters

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Following the denial of a stay for the injunction, special masters were appointed to redraw the districts lawfully. The commission was also directed to redraw the maps by early February.

Timeline for Court’s Decision on Maps

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The district court is expected to decide on the redrawn maps by late March. This timeline is crucial for the administration of the 2024 primary election.

Concerns Over Election Administration

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Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel expressed concerns about voter confusion if the maps were redrawn close to the primary election. The commission argued for the stay, emphasizing the implications for equal protection and election management.

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