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Sixth Cir. Rules Michigan District Maps Unconstitutional

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 30, 2019 6:00 AM

If you thought that illegal gerrymandering happens all the time, you thought right -- 27 out of 34 times in one state.

In Michigan, a federal appeals court said, political divisions in 27 of 34 districts were unconstitutional. The districts challenged in League of Women Voters of Michigan v. Benson diluted the people's vote. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said the state must redraw and approve new maps by Aug. 1. If not, then the federal court will do it for them.

'Chorus of Courts'

The judicial panel said the Michigan plan "gives Republicans a strong, systematic, and durable structural advantage in Michigan's elections and decidedly discriminates against Democrats."

"This court joins the growing chorus of federal courts that have, in recent years, held partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional," the judges said. Gerrymandering -- from racial to political -- is a source of continuing litigation in a dozen states. Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin have current cases. The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in two of them, and agreed to look at the problem again again in the case from Virginia.

In the Michigan case, the plaintiffs alleged Republicans had deliberately drawn political districts to ensure their party continued in power. They showed email that gave the party's plan away. The appeals court read one note saying Republicans "need for legal and PR purposes a good looking map that (does) not look like an obvious gerrymander," and another saying the proposed map "protects all nine incumbents and looks good."

Another Political Reality

The Sixth Circuit decision means lawmakers in the GOP-controlled legislature have little time to redraw the districts or do something else. It will not be easy because any new map will also need a signature from the governor, who is a Democrat. Republicans vowed to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, but they would also need a stay. If the High Court grants their petition, the case won't be heard before Aug. 1. That's the deadline for lawmakers to reformat the voting districts, or else.

In the meantime, legislators will have to deal with another political reality. Voters approved a ballot measure last fall that limits the legislature's power to draw lines that favor one party over another.

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