That’s a wrap. Michigan gerrymandering case now in hands of three judges

Anti-gerrymandering sign

Late filings Friday contained no new bombshells or salacious emails about gerrymandering in Michigan in a case that has had plenty of both.

June 2019: What the U.S. Supreme Court gerrymandering ruling means for Michigan
June 2019: Reaction in Michigan to U.S. Supreme Court gerrymandering decision
May 24, 2019: U.S. Supreme Court halts order requiring Michigan to redraw political lines
April 29, 2019: To fix maps, Republicans must please Whitmer and three irked judges
April 25, 2019: Michigan’s political districts illegally gerrymandered, court rules​

The final arguments are in. Now, it’s up to three federal judges to decide whether Michigan’s political districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered and new lines should be drawn for the 2020 election.

Lawyers in the bitterly contested case over Michigan’s 2011 redistricting process late Friday submitted more than 650 pages total of “findings of fact” and “conclusions of law,” rehashing arguments and evidence.

The documents contained no bombshells or salacious new emails in a case that’s uncovered a trove of both. Nor, is there altogether much disagreement about the facts in the case.

Instead, the lawsuit, brought by the League of Women Voters of Michigan and several Democrats, likely will hinge on the legal question of whether voters’ rights are infringed when they live in districts so tilted toward one party (Republicans in Michigan’s case) that the outcome of many state elections is preordained.

Here’s what to know about the arguments presented Friday and what comes next:

Arguments from Democrats

The League of Women Voters contends 34 total congressional, state House and Senate seats are so skewed toward Republicans that they illegally dilute voters’ rights.

How so? By “packing” Democrats into districts they can’t lose, while spreading out or “cracking” remaining Democrats into safe GOP seats, helping ensure Republican majorities in Lansing.

Districts are redrawn every 10 years after the Census, and led by the party in control in Lansing, which has been Republicans in 2001 and 2011. The process will change in 2021, when a newly formed nonpartisan panel is set to drawn the districts, so any changes from the lawsuit would last only one election.

The League, represented by attorney and former Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer, contends Republicans had a leg up in 2011 because of existing maps, and then doubled down with a secret, privately financed effort to draw districts even more favorable to Republicans.

The case, filed in December 2017, has uncovered dozens of emails from Republican strategists bragging that new districts would help the GOP maintain a 9-5 congressional delegation for years. The emails also show aides to Michigan Republican members of Congress repeatedly requested changes to lines to protect incumbents.

“It’s hard to envision a Dem winning this seat even in a year like 2008,” a GOP mapmaker, Jeff Timmer, wrote in an email to the chief of staff for former Rep. Thaddeus McCotter.

The League pointed to election results showing that, since 2011, Republicans consistently receive roughly half of all votes for state Senate and House seats, but still control both chambers by overwhelming margins.

Testimony also claimed that Michigan districts are among the most heavily biased toward Republicans nationwide in the last 45 years.

“The Democratic Party has had difficulty recruiting candidates to run for office, raising money, and energizing volunteers because, based on historical election results, voters and donors believe that the Democratic candidate is very unlikely to win,” attorneys for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, wrote in documents filed Friday.

Arguments from Republicans

Attorneys for Republicans contend the League of Women Voters is making much ado about unsolicited emails from minor players in the redistricting effort, and want the case dismissed.

They contend there’s nothing illegal about consulting incumbents about maps, districts were drawn to meet Michigan’s exacting legal standards and the plaintiffs waited nearly seven years before filing suit.

“While Plaintiffs attempt to paint a picture of pure political gerrymandering, such characterizations fail in the face of the facts here,”  attorneys for Republican members of the Michigan Senate wrote Friday.

“Mapdrawers only considered political data as a secondary consideration, after the [legal criteria] were satisfied, to ensure that the maps could garner enough votes in the Senate to be enacted.”

They contend Democrats haven’t proved redistricting harmed individual voters and there is no constitutional right to live in competitive districts.

“Rather than showing individualized harm, Plaintiffs’ experts measured statewide impacts of gerrymandering — using flawed algorithms, no less — and individual witnesses could not articulate a single way in which the boundaries of individual districts have burdened their votes, political speech, or association,” attorneys for Republican members of the Michigan Senate wrote Friday.

Indeed, while the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that gerrymandering based on race is illegal, the high court has yet to rule on the legality of drawing districts to favor one party.

What now?

Three federal judges are expected to decide the case in the next few weeks or months. Among other things, they could order new lines or special elections for 2020.

Two judges were appointed by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat: Denise Page-Hood and Eric Clay. The third judge, Gordon Quist, was appointed by President George H.W. Bush, a Republican.

In November, when the panel cleared the case to proceed to trial, the judges split 2-1, with Quist dissenting.

In most cases, any appeal of the judges’ ruling would go to the more conservative Sixth Circuit. But because of the nature of the case, it would go to the the Supreme Court, attorneys have said.

The high court already is scheduled to weigh two separate gerrymandering cases about districts that favor Democrats in Maryland and Republicans in North Carolina.

A decision on those cases is due by June, a few months after the Michigan case is decided.

Republican lawyers in the Michigan case had sought a delay, arguing that any ruling would be superseded by findings from the high court.

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Jim tomlinson
Sun, 02/24/2019 - 1:13am

How can gerrymandering be argued as a good thing and tolerated?

J. Katakowski
Sun, 02/24/2019 - 6:49am

This needs to be settled now. Gerrymandering should be illegal and they need to bring back real voting 1 person 1 vote. If this stinking practice is not ended we will all fail.

Sun, 02/24/2019 - 8:18am

The people of Michigan have spoken. Voters Not Politicians recognized, organized and educated people about this issue. It is so clear how wrong gerrymandering is, from either side.

Technology has allowed this fine "art" to become a "science" and it is my hope the courts will do the right thing. This past 10 years in MI has shown how damaging one party, unbalanced governance is for a state and we should all be outraged that this was allowed.

This is only one example of what has awakened in me, the need to be constantly vigilant of what is going on in government.

Sun, 02/24/2019 - 12:32pm

What a sad statement on the Michigan (and national) GOP - obvious that they don't consider it wrong to cheat and deny democracy, voting, fair elections.
Probably why they were fine with the Russian interference in our elections - as long as the Party wins, it's OK.

Sun, 02/24/2019 - 12:35pm

Since the US Constitution gives power of apportionment (of US Congressional districts) to the state legislatures without any other requirement please explain the illegality being screamed about. Granted we all think some things should be illegal! It will be interesting to see how transferring power this from the state legislature to a commission will be constitutionally finessed if challenged. Nor can one believe the issue is really procedural as much as it is who's got the power and who does not.

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 9:34am

State legislatures are authorized to regulate elections, but have to comply with Constitutional principles in doing so. The US Supremes so ruled as far back as 1962 in forcing state senate seats to be apportioned by population, not counties. And the US Supremes upheld a redistricting commission in Arizona just a few years ago. One can view districting either with adherence with democratic principles with the goal of representing the will of the voters, or one can view it putting party ahead of the constitution. It is obvious that the GOP in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina and Dems in Maryland have done the latter. We need to harness technology to assure representative districting instead.

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 12:37pm

Interesting, but if the both the state senates and the state houses were to apportioned by population what was the point of having both bodies? Not like the state senate was going to ratify treaties.

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 12:47pm

Ah Earl Warren, say no more.

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 2:10pm

I agree that this is more of who's got the power and who does not. My area has been largely Democrat since I was a child and it will probably continue to go that way. Most people vote for the person and not so much the party. Time to quit the arguing amongst parties and work for all the people of Michigan and not the political party. We are a transit society so maybe any changes should be every 25 years instead of with the census. Smaller districts need to be heard no matter what.

Bob Potocki
Mon, 02/25/2019 - 8:40am

Michigan's Legislature is rigged and illegitimate.
It should be dissolved immediately. A new legislsture(preferably returned to part time) should be elected by the people they serve. It is absurd and sickening to see the ballot results of the people declared to be illegal by power hungry interests pretend Michigan's constitution gives them that power. This is not a close arguement.

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 9:10am

The results demontrate this is a bunch pickled bologna! How did Dems win so many seats and the highest 3 offices in the state? Hmmmmmm?
I am highly suspicious of the new "bipartisan" commission as ever. This is how liberal dems got control of California.

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 9:52am

The three highest offices are statewide elections; gerrymandering doesn't affect them. The fact those elections were won by Democrats while both houses of the legislature remain under GOP control speaks to the pernicious influence of the 2010 district maps

David M Dunn
Mon, 02/25/2019 - 8:40pm

Well said. Glad you stated the facts clearly and succinctly.

Sun, 03/03/2019 - 9:36am

The cry has always been one person, one vote. But as long as one person lives in a district where people with the opposite point of view are in the majority, then that person does not have a vote. You will never “fix” districts so that everyone’s vote counts. That is why this country has always operated under the principle of majority rules. Gerrymandering, by definition, will always exist.