U.S. high court kills Michigan gerrymandering case ordering new districts

U.S. Supreme Court

Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions earlier this year decided federal courts have no say in partisan gerrymandering cases at the state level, making the Michigan order null. (Shutterstock image)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday formally put to bed a lower court’s order for Michigan lawmakers to redraw gerrymandered state and congressional political district lines.

The ruling was no surprise: The Supreme Court decided this summer that federal courts had no place deciding partisan gerrymandering cases, leaving the job to the states and Congress. 

That decision essentially nixed the federal district court order from April requiring lawmakers to draw new maps ahead of the 2020 elections and hold special elections for several Senate seats. The Supreme Court decision Monday makes that official. 

As with most states, Michigan allows the party in power in the state Legislature after the decennial census to draw district lines. In the past two redistricting cycles, that’s been Republicans but the task will now be handled by a citizen redistricting panel, due to a successful 2018 ballot initiative.

The League of Women Voters and several Michigan Democratic voters brought a lawsuit against the state arguing the lines were gerrymandered, and the district court agreed with them; the ruling found that the Republican-drawn district lines violated their 1st and 14th "Amendment rights because it deliberately dilutes the power of their votes by placing them in districts that were intentionally drawn to ensure a particular partisan outcome in each district.”

The lower court ordered 34 state House and Senate and US Congressional districts be redrawn by Aug. 1 and that special elections be held in 2020 using the new lines. 

State Republicans appealed the decision, but it was made moot by the U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer in a case involving Maryland and North Carolina. 

As a result, Michigan voting district lines will stay the same until 2022, the first year lines drawn by the newly-enacted redistricting commission will be used for a statewide election.

The redistricting commission, adopted by a statewide vote in 2018, will rely on a panel of 13 people with different political affiliations. Four members affiliated with each major party and five affiliated with neither Republicans nor Democrats will be randomly selected to serve on the panel, where they are required to solicit public input and can hire consultants to help them draw new lines using Census data. 

Redistricting commissions are still a new method of drawing political lines, but early trials in other states have indicated they can help mitigate partisan gerrymandering. Critics argue the commission is ripe for manipulation and unfairly excludes certain voters, which is in part the basis of two ongoing GOP-led lawsuits arguing the commission should be shut down.

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Agnosticrat 2.0
Tue, 10/22/2019 - 6:23am

No big surprise from the “corporations are people” Roberts court.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 10/22/2019 - 7:07am

"Critics argue the commission is ripe for manipulation and unfairly excludes certain voters, which is in part the basis of two ongoing GOP-led lawsuits arguing the commission should be shut down."

And when this "impartial" commission is found to have been manipulated, what happens then?

Will those members face prison time?

Will the new district lines be scrapped?

Will any new elected officials elected be removed from office?

What about any legislation they had proposed? Any votes taken on legislation?

Will the party of the offending member(s) be liable for all of the costs of the do-over?

These are all questions that VNP backers are afraid to answer.

That alone speaks volumes.

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 8:48am

So you want the GOP to have one more try to keep their gerrymander going in 2020? We guess so. The GOP wants tainted elections; it's the only way they can win.

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 9:15am

Kevin, please ask yourself this list of questions in regard to the present system, which unfairly rigs boundaries: When it's found that those who draw the lines have manipulated them, what happens then? Do those members face prison time? Are the new districts scrapped? In each case the answer is No. The new system, with all its careful safeguards, couldn't possibly be worse than the political manipulations we have now.

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 10:32am

I'm with you Lee. The GOP has it so rigged that we can never get rid of their majority. If this does not do the trick there really is no point in most of us voting anymore at all. So corrupt. So sick of it.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 10/22/2019 - 12:31pm

I addressed your point earlier, Lee.

The focus should be more broadly based than just elections, and deal with more then just boundaries.

The democrats who were pushing VNP (and yes, VNP was a democrat.party front group), essentially proposed utilizing gerrymandering as a solution to remedying gerrymandering.

A better solution should address how & why political parties have been allowed to get embedded as deeply as they have in every aspect with how state (and federal) government operates.

Their solution only delays addressing the underlying issue.

That been said, when the "Independent" Commission has been exposed as being compromised (and jt will), the solution to that won't be any better.

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 3:49pm

Why haven't independent commissions in other states been exposed as "compromised"? TELL US WHAT YOU KNOW, KEVIN!

Kevin Grand
Tue, 10/22/2019 - 6:11pm

I think that the end results speak for themselves.

Take California for example:

In Congress - 2 democratic US Senators and 46 US Representatives (the remaining 7 are republican)

In their State Legislature - 29/11 split in their state senate (d/r) and 61/18 split in their state assembly

OABTW, they are over their eyeballs in debt.

What else would you like to know, LLA?

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 10:13am

What else would we like to know? I'd like to know why you thought any of that data was relevant to your argument

Thu, 10/24/2019 - 8:22am

Republicans can actually thank CA's independent commission for keeping some of them in power. What these commissions do is make districts more competitive. Your points don't provide an answer to my original question and critique of your initial statement. But, I will respond & educate:
1. CA is the most populous state in the country.
2. CA is the most democratic/progressive/liberal state in the country.
3. CA will always have a significant larger number of D's
4. Their debt has nothing to do with gerrymandering. But, while you're on the topic, their GDP is also over $2 trillion in 2018, making them the fifth-largest economy in the world (MI's was about $469 Billion in 2018). We are also home to the largest municipal bankruptcy in history. So, like...what were you trying to prove with that comment?

Mrs A
Thu, 10/24/2019 - 7:46pm

Oh how I wish Bridge comments offered a LIKE button! Kudos, LLA.

Kevin Grand
Sat, 10/26/2019 - 8:31am

Hey, you asked an example of a compromised system, I provided a perfect example.

Obviously, the fact that example showed it skewing towards the democrats wasn't what you wanted to read...but oh well.

And if you want to cite California's glowing economy...take a read at this:

"The team’s conclusions: The unfunded liability was over $500 billion — seven times the number officially reported. That was in 2008.

The student team recommended several actions to lawmakers and pension managers. Almost all were ignored.

Over time, it has become clear that the students’ analysis was spot on. Public pension debt doubled to more than $1.052 trillion in 2017, the last year of complete data.

Based on recently reported public pension assets and estimated liabilities, that figure is now more than $1.109 trillion, an increase of $56 billion. That translates into $81,300 of pension debt per California household."


OABTW, you're right. We are home to the largest municipal bankruptcy in history (so far).

Remind me again which political party was running Detroit?

John Chastain
Tue, 10/22/2019 - 10:40am

Critics argue (the critics being the very same republicans who lie, cheat and steal elections country wide) is simply gerrymandering & minority vote suppressing republicans whining that being fair overall is unfair to them. We already know what happens when districts are manipulated for political advantage, after all republicans in this state has done it for years. Yet none of them have gone to jail or faced any significant punishment so what’s your point. Criticism is the price one pays for pointing out the game is rigged and seeking to unrig it. When the current governor of Georgia faces prison for using his prior office to suppress minority voters and rig the election process in his favor then we’ll talk about your “hypotheticals”. Until then spare us the phony outrage.

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 3:48pm

"Critics argue the commission is ripe for manipulation and unfairly excludes certain voters..."

The only 'critics' of this commission are republicans who stand to lose. This is not a non-partisan concern, nor have your stated hypothetical issues occurred in any of the states that currently implement redistricting commissions.

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 9:18am

This Supreme Court decision is good news for the rule of law. Most of Michigan's electoral districts, both state and Federal, were drawn to be compact and contiguous back in 2010. Those districts are also overwhelmingly rural, and tend to vote Republican. The exceptions seem to be those districts in and near Detroit which the Voting Rights Act still requires to be majority-minority. Due to the decreases in Detroit's population in the 2010 census and an increase in the population required to be included in a congressional district, several of those majority-minority districts turned out to be pretty convoluted. There is no upper bound in the VRA on how large a majority is permitted, but Michigan's districts as set in 2010 passed Justice Department review at that time.

I will be interested to see how much of a difference the less-political Redistricting Commission will make to the districts we will have in 2022, since they too must honor the Voting Rights Act or any new legislation, and will hopefully create districts that have as straightforward of boundaries as possible.

Jane Thomas
Tue, 10/22/2019 - 12:32pm

You must not have ever looked at the districts on a map. They are most certainly NOT "compact" and "contiguous." My own looks like a Pacman with something dripping out of its mouth. It is accepted by most that Michigan has one of the MOST gerrymandered district maps in the country. And in 2010, all too many things "passed justice department" review. And ours were reviewed by the court in Michigan, not the U.S. justice department. There will be SIGNIFICANT changes in our districts once the commission takes effect. Too bad we have to wait until 2022.

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 9:47am

So we have a Republican legislature, a state with a majority of districts in rural areas, a VNP leadership that leans Democratic, and the Minority Voting Rights act that affects cities that are already majority minority. Given all that, how does anyone propose that the districts be drawn to affect no one? And given the directed makeup of the VNP Commission, what happens if they can not reach agreement on a map?

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 10:48am

This ruling shouldn't have been a surprise to the Michigan League of Women Voters; SCOTUS has always punted on gerrymandering cases, always finding a way to kick the issue back to the states.

Decades ago the League should have done what Voters Not Politicians did, propose a Michigan constitution amendment to create an independent politically balanced citizen based redistricting committee. In addition to not doing this, the League refused to collaborate with the VNP board to get the amendment written and supported. In their stead, a 29 year old woman, Katie Fahey, took on the task the League should have initiated and willed the process for creating a citizens redistricting committee into existence.

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 12:39pm

Last I looked the US constitution gives the state legislators the duty of districting, with very little direction beyond that. Sounds like punting this is not an unreasonable decision. The better question is what is the basis for removing it from them in the first place?

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 3:25pm

And as we all know, the Framers of the Constitution were all brilliant, infallible wizards who could see the future and heartily believed that the inalienable right of suffrage for all people should be the foundation of a government for all people...

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 7:38pm

Maybe not perfect, but as opposed to your crowd, I'll stick with the old dead white guys. BTW, where is your Marxist paradise you want us to be like? Still waiting.

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 10:18am

Leave it to the Libertarians to constantly tell on themselves. You don't actually believe in democracy, and neither did the Founders. You want your minority rule, because it's the only way old, mediocre white men like yourselves could retain power in the face of a pluralistic society that increasingly coming apart in the deleterious inequality incumbent of late stage capitalism

As for the existence of a Marxist state, the FBI domestically and the CIA internationally have made sure to kill or imprison anyone and everyone attempting to break capitalism's stranglehold