Supreme Court rules on re-districting in Michigan

LANSING — Michigan's Republican-led Legislature will not be forced to redraw legislative and congressional districts for the 2020 election, following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling Thursday that federal courts have no role to play in deciding claims of partisan gerrymandering.

Pending its 5-4 decision, the high court had put on hold an April ruling from a federal court panel that ordered lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to enact new maps by Aug. 1.

The lawsuit suit pertains only to 2020. As Chief Justice John Roberts noted in the majority opinion, Michigan voters in November approved a constitutional amendment creating an independent commission to handle the once-a-decade redistricting process after the census, which will affect the 2022 election and beyond.

The court's decision was a setback for Democrats, who handily won the governorship and other state offices last fall only to see the GOP keep control of the House, 58-52, and Senate, 22-16, thanks at least in part to gerrymandered districts. Democrats netted two Republican-leaning congressional seats in suburban Detroit, however, for a 7-7 split.

If Michigan's maps had been altered for 2020, it could have bolstered Democrats' chances to take not only the state House but also the Senate, where special elections had been ordered for 2020 — instead of 2022 as normal.

"The fact that these districts aren't fairly drawn makes it a tough slog for us," said state Democratic Party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes. "But we feel good that there are places in Michigan, despite the gerrymandered districts, where we can make inroads and where we can win seats that have been drawn specifically for Republicans to win."

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called the ruling "disappointing" and said gerrymandering undermines elections regardless of voters' political affiliations.

"This is why passage of Proposal 2 was so crucial to ensure Michigan has fair maps and fair representation," she said of the voter-approved initiative that will take redistricting out of the hands of lawmakers and the governor.

Republicans applauded the decision, saying Democrats had sought political gain in the courts.

"This ruling is a victory for the people of Michigan and upholds the concept of judicial restraint," said state Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox. House Speaker Lee Chatfield said the justices "did the right thing upholding the will of the voters" and leaving state policy decisions to the people's elected representatives.

In April, federal judges ordered the state to redraw nine of 14 congressional seats and 25 of 148 legislative districts after determining Republicans had configured them to guarantee their political dominance by unconstitutionally diluting the power of Democratic voters. The number of newly cast seats would have been higher, though, because of the impact on adjacent districts.

The suit was filed in 2017 by the League of Women Voters of Michigan and Democratic voters.

Judy Karandjeff, president of the League of Women Voters of Michigan, said she was disappointed with the decision but proud that the Michigan case exposed how power was abused in the 2011 redistricting process.

"We look forward to educating voters on the importance of applying for the new redistricting commission," she said. "The League of Women Voters shined a light on how egregious the gerrymanders in our congressional and legislative districts are and we will continue fighting until every vote counts."

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