The U.S. Supreme Court put on hold Friday a lower court’s order that Michigan lawmakers redraw state and congressional political districts — and hold special 2020 elections — to fix illegal gerrymandering by Republicans.
In a one-paragraph order, the high court delayed the Michigan ruling until it can decide high-profile redistricting cases out of North Carolina and Maryland; a ruling in those cases is expected in June. The court also stayed a redistricting case in Ohio in a separate order.
Friday’s development comes one month after a three-judge panel in Detroit ruled that Michigan Republicans’ redistricting efforts in 2011 were so partisan as to constitute an illegal gerrymander in a lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters and several Democratic voters in Michigan. The lawsuit targeted 34 state House, Senate and U.S. congressional districts that it claimed were intentionally drawn to favor Republicans and minimize the election of Democrats.
The districts, the lower court noted, have consistently allowed Republicans to maintain strong majorities in Lansing, even though they typically receive roughly 50 percent or less of total votes across the state.
The court found all of the districts in Michigan were illegally gerrymandered. It ordered Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, to hold special elections in 2020 with redrawn districts. If upheld, that would cut the four-year terms of state senators elected in 2018 in half.
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Republicans quickly appealed, with House Speaker Lee Chatfield calling the three-judge panel’s order “an unprecedented intrusion into the legislative process in the context of redistricting cases.”
Representatives for Chatfield, R-Levering, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Friday.
Laura Cox, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, called the original lawsuit “a desperate attempt by partisan Democrats to redraw our state’s legislative lines two years early.”
“I applaud the (U.S.) Supreme Court’s decision to issue a stay in the case,” Cox said in a statement. “This will allow our legislature to continue focusing on getting things done for the people of Michigan, instead of unnecessary partisan battles over political maps.”
Lavora Barnes, the Michigan Democratic Party chair, said her group was "more than disappointed" with Friday's order.
"But we will not allow Republican gerrymandering or efforts to silence our citizens at the ballot box stand in the way of Democrats connecting with every Michigan voter."
Last month, the three-judge panel found that state Republicans' methods for redrawing Michigan’s political districts violated Democratic voters' First 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.”
Friday’s order gives state lawmakers a reprieve from an Aug. 1 deadline to draw new maps. The districts were set to be redrawn anyway following the 2020 Census, and the lower court’s ruling would have sped up the timeline.
Michigan's congressional delegation is split 7-7 following the 2018 election, while Republicans have a 22-16 majority in the state Senate and 58-52 majority in the House.
Michigan is in the early stages of creating a citizens redistricting commission after a successful 2018 ballot initiative backed by an all-volunteer committee, Voters Not Politicians. The commission’s first maps will be in place for the November 2022 general election, following the 2020 Census.
“We are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision to put on hold the lower court’s requirement that the legislature redraw Michigan’s district maps for the 2020 elections,” Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, said Friday in a statement.
“We remain committed to doing everything in our power to ensure the new redistricting process is successful so Michigan voters are not subjected to maps that are rigged against them,” Wang said.