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Detroit legislative districts could be redrawn by spring, court suggests

Detroit City on a Road Map
A hearing Friday made no decision on a deadline to reconfigure 13 metro Detroit legislative districts that were deemed unconstitutional. (iStock photo by marcoscisetti)
  • Judges want new maps in place by spring to replace 13 districts they deemed illegally drawn
  • Judges skeptical of calling for Senate special elections before current terms end in 2026, citing geographical issues
  • Redistricting commission this week voted to appeal the court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court

KALAMAZOO — A federal court is considering an aggressive timeline for redrawing metro Detroit’s state legislative districts, one that could produce new maps by spring and involve the assistance of a court-appointed expert.

During a Friday hearing in Kalamazoo, the three-judge panel that deemed 13 metro Detroit legislative districts illegal questioned whether the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission alone is up to the task.


Judge Raymond Kethledge proposed a “dual track” that could involve both the commission and a court-appointed attorney simultaneously reconfiguring the maps, with the court ultimately determining which complied best with constitutional obligations.


“The recent posture of the commission has been defiance and disarray,” Kethledge said. “We all know what’s been going on…we don’t have time to see if it goes wrong.”

While the court didn’t make any decisions Friday on a timetable, commission attorney Patrick Lewis said the panel should be able to redraw the maps, with some help from an expert.

The hearing was the first since the judges ruled in December that the districts are unconstitutional because the commission “overwhelmingly — indeed inescapably” drew them “on the basis of race," and relied on faulty data that denies Black voters proper representation. 

The ruling was a major setback for the independent redistricting commission, which was created by voters in 2018 to end gerrymandering by wresting control of map-making from the party in power in Lansing.

The three-judge panel that made the ruling are all appointees of former President George W. Bush: Kethledge, Paul Maloney and Janet Neff.

The commission voted Thursday to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The appeal will be filed soon, said Edward Woods, the commission’s executive director.

He told reporters Friday “there's no question that we believe we could do fair maps” if the high court rejects the appeal. 

There’s no set deadline for the new maps, with judges on Friday suggesting dates from mid-March to early April. The commission has suggested it might take 11 weeks.


Likewise, the judges on Friday made no decision on a motion by Detroit-area voters to order special elections this year in at least six state Senate districts, two years ahead of schedule.

But judges and attorneys for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson expressed concern that a special election in some districts and not others would raise geographical issues that leave a number of voters being represented by a lawmaker they didn’t elect.

The Michigan Senate also objected to the idea, filing a brief with the court asking to leave existing districts intact through 2024.

Senate special elections would have “the effect of unseating, or curtailing the terms of, the people’s chosen representatives, even if the districts in which that choice was manifested were drawn in an impermissible manner,” the brief states.

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