Ballotpedia April/2019

Federal court strikes down Michigan state legislative and congressional district maps as partisan gerrymanders

If a court ruling in Michigan is upheld, some Michigan voters could see elections in 2020 under new districts.

Last week, a three-judge panel of the United District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled unanimously that 9 congressional and 25 state legislative districts in Michigan had been subject to unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering, violating Democrats' First Amendment associational rights. The court also found that 27 of the 34 challenged districts violated the Democrats' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by diluting the impact of their votes.

The court enjoined the use of any challenged districts in future elections. It also ordered that special elections be conducted in 2020 for the challenged state Senate districts and any adjoining districts whose boundaries might be affected by remedial maps. The court directed the state legislature to adopt remedial maps for the challenged districts on or before August 1, 2019.

In June 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Gill v. Whitford, in which twelve registered Democratic voters in Wisconsin challenged that state's legislative redistricting plan as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. In June 2018, the court ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate standing but did not address the broader question of whether partisan gerrymandering claims can be brought to trial under the U.S. Constitution and remanded the case to the lower court for further proceedings.

The suit in this case was filed in December 2017 by the League of Women Voters of Michigan and a group of state Democrats. In February 2019, the court rejected a proposed settlement in which maps for some state House districts would be redrawn in advance of the 2020 election. State Republicans petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States to delay lower court proceedings pending the high court's rulings in two other cases being heard this term concerning what constitutes an illegal partisan gerrymander. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied this request, which cleared the way for the trial to commence.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments last month in those two partisan gerrymandering cases, Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Benisek. Both represented appeals of district court rulings that found that congressional maps in North Carolina and Maryland, respectively, constituted an illegal partisan gerrymander. The high court is expected to rule on both cases prior to the conclusion of the current term in June 2019.

Covert Hill © 2020