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

U.S. Supreme Court

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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