·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Political Litigation

Federal Court Throws Out Part of Michigan Redistricting Lawsuit

— March 4, 2022

The judges said that the lawsuit was akin to a gerrymandering complaint–and, following Supreme Court precedent, the judiciary cannot intervene.

A three-judge federal panel has partially dismissed a Republican-led lawsuit seeking to challenge Michigan’s new congressional map.

According to The Detroit Free Press, conservative lawmakers and interests groups had alleged that Michigan’s new congressional district map arbitrarily divides counties and municipalities.

In their complaint, Republicans said that counties and municipalities constitute “communities of interest,” comprised of populations that “share cultural or historical characteristics or economic interests.”

Conservatives say that the Michigan Constitution requires that such “communities of interest” be grouped within similar legislative districts.

Under the state’s new districts map, Republicans believe that these communities could be divided, thereby diluting their collective voting power.

However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit called conservatives’ claims a “blood relative” of claims of partisan gerrymandering—claims that Supreme Court precedent prevents courts from deciding.

The Michigan Capitol’s upper dome. Image via Wikimedia Commons/author:Steve & Christine/uploaded by user:xnatedawgx. (CCA-BY-2.0).

“That is just a political-gerrymandering claim by another name,” the opinion states.

“Just as the Constitution allow States to draw lines for congressional districts based on partisan interests, so too it allows them to ‘fragment’ voters ‘communities of interest,’” 6th Circuit Judge Raymond Kethledge wrote in the unanimous decision. “And no principle discernible in the Constitution can direct a court’s decision as to when such fragmentation ‘has gone too far.’”

The panel also rejected Republicans’ claims that counties could be considered communities of interest, as the “term’s vagueness affords the Commission broad discretion to define the term however it likes.”

“The plaintiffs do allege in conclusory fashion that ‘Michigan’s true communities of interest’ are ‘counties.’ But that is plainly untrue, given that, under the Michigan Constitution, county lines are expressly part of a different (and lower-ranked) criterion altogether; and the ‘communities of interest’ criterion itself provides that such communities ‘may include, but shall not be limited to, populations that share cultural or historical characteristics or economic interests,’” Kethledge wrote.

However, notes that the judges did not offer further opinion on the conservatives’ other claims related to the redistricting lawsuit.

The lawsuit, adds, was filed against Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and individual members of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission—some of whom are current or former Republicans.

The plaintiffs include Republican legislators such as Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain), members of the so-called Michigan Freedom Fund, former state Rep. Joseph Graves (R-Linden), and conservative party officials.

Michigan, notes, adopted the new congressional district map in late December.

Eight of the thirteen commissioners voted to approve the map, including two Democrats, four independents, and two Republicans.

The map, says, appears to “significantly reduce the Republican advantage baked into current maps” by drawing more definite and logical district boundaries. In its prior form, Michigan’s congressional district maps saw Republican-dominated areas snaking their way around Black and Democrat-heavy communities.


Court dismisses one count in federal lawsuit challenging Mich.’s new congressional map

Republican redistricting lawsuit challenging Congressional map partially dismissed by judges

Join the conversation!