US Supreme Court won't overrule federal judges' order to redraw Detroit legislative seats

lansing state capitol.jpeg
Posted at 6:26 PM, Jan 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-22 18:26:50-05

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a request from Michigan’s redistricting commission to overrule an order to redraw 13 Detroit-area seats in the Legislature, a decision that will likely make the legislative maps more competitive.

The redistricting commission had asked the high court to overrule a December ruling by a three-judge federal appeals court panel that Michigan's legislative maps were illegally influenced by race when drawn in 2021. The panel ruled that although nearly 80% of Detroit residents are Black, the Black voting age population in the 13 Detroit-area districts mostly ranges from 35% to 45%, with one being as low as 19%.

The panel ordered that the seven state House districts have their boundaries redrawn for the 2024 election, and it set a later deadline for the six state Senate districts because the senators' terms don’t expire until 2026.

A drafted state House map is due by Feb. 2 and a final deadline is March 29.

The Supreme Court did not explain its decision in the order released Monday. Attorneys for the commission did immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

John Bursch, an attorney for the Detroit voters who sued the commission, said they were “very pleased” by the order. Bursch said the commission could still appeal, but he called the Supreme Court's order "a strong indicator that such an appeal will likely fail.”

Although it’s unknown how the new maps will be drawn, there would likely be an increase in the number of “Detroit-focused” districts that would be solidly Democratic, said David Dulio, a political science professor at Oakland University in Michigan. That would likely affect districts in the suburbs, which would become more competitive as a result, he said.

“You could see these districts, or even a subset of them, really be where the fight for control of the state House is,” Dulio said.

Michigan Democrats were able to flip the state House and Senate in 2022 while retaining the governor’s office, giving them full control of state government for the first time in 40 years. The party’s success had been attributed, in part, to legislative maps that were redrawn in 2021 by an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

State lawmakers drew the boundaries for Michigan’s seats in Congress and the Legislature until voters in 2018 created an independent commission to handle the once-a-decade job. The commission's first maps were produced for the 2022 election.

Experts repeatedly told the redistricting commission in 2021 that certain percentages regarding race were necessary to comply with federal law. The appeals court judges disagreed, though.

“The record here shows overwhelmingly — indeed, inescapably — that the commission drew the boundaries of plaintiffs’ districts predominantly on the basis of race. We hold that those districts were drawn in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” Judge Raymond Kethledge wrote.

The redistricting process had reduced the number of majority-minority districts in the Legislature from 15 to five, according to the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University.

The 2022 midterms, the first election since redistricting, saw the number of Black lawmakers in the Legislature reduced from 20 to 17. Detroit, which is predominantly Black, was left without Black representation in Congress for the first time since the early 1950s.