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Michigan court denies Black lawmakers’ challenge to maps

Posted at 12:01 PM, Feb 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-05 12:01:53-05

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court late Thursday denied Black lawmakers’ challenge to new congressional and legislative maps, saying they showed no grounds to question the state redistricting commission’s decision to slash the number of majority-African American seats.

In a 4-3 order, the court said the lawsuit did not demonstrate the plans are noncompliant with the federal Voting Rights Act. Majority justices noted the panel’s expert found significant white crossover voting for Black-preferred candidates in the Detroit and Saginaw areas, giving African African voters an opportunity to elect their representatives of choice even if they do not account for more than half of the voting-age population.

The old maps had 15 majority-Black districts by the end of the decade: two in the U.S. House, two in the state Senate and 11 in the state House. There are seven under the new plans that will last the next decade, all in the state House.

African American officials and residents, including Democratic current and former legislators in Detroit, had sued over the work of the 13-member commission that was created by voters to take mapmaking out of the hands of politicians. An attorney for the panel had urged the court to reject the challenge, saying the minority community will have greater influence in more districts under the new maps.

“Plaintiffs have not identified grounds or legal authority that would allow us to question the Commission’s decision not to draw race-based, majority-minority districts,” wrote Chief Justice Bridget McCormack and Justices Elizabeth Clement, Megan Cavanaugh and Elizabeth Welch.

The minority said the dismissal is premature and “unjust.” It contended the court should have appointed an expert to assess the evidence because the subject — voter dilution — is complex and the suit went straight to the Supreme Court.

“As a matter of procedure, the majority’s decision today is completely unprecedented,” Justices Brian Zahra, David Viviano and Richard Bernstein wrote. They said “it does not accord with any notion of fair play.”

Two other redistricting lawsuits remain pending.

Republicans have challenged the U.S. House map in federal court, alleging it is not compact and overly splits municipal boundaries. Several groups have contested the state House lines in the Michigan Supreme Court, saying it is biased toward Republicans and should be redrawn to be fairer to Democrats.