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Federal Court: Michigan's Legislative Districts Unconstitutionally Gerrymandered

Benjamin A. Tigay

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A panel of federal judges has held that Michigan's legislative and congressional districts were gerrymandered and unconstitutional. The Court found enough evidence to hold that voters' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by the partisan drawing of the districts. This ruling means that Michigan needs new legislative and congressional districts before the next election.

The ruling comes after a trial with extensive evidence. The Court heard testimony and evidence that Michigan Republicans had the goal of redrawing districts "to solidify conservative policymaking at the state level and maintain a Republican stronghold in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next decade." This evidence, the Court said, "points to only one conclusion: partisan considerations played a central role in every aspect of the redistricting process" and that there "was a desire to construct districts that favored Republicans and disadvantaged Democrats." 

To prove violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the Plaintiffs had to show a discriminatory intent in drawing the districts and discriminatory effects against voters for the disfavored party. The Court concluded that, based on all the evidence, there was a discriminatory intent to the policy, and the policy succeeded in diluting and discriminating against Democratic voters. Therefore, the Michigan legislative and congressional districts were unconstitutional.

A previous gerrymandering challenge went to the United States Supreme Court last year. But the Supreme Court did not even rule on the merits. The Court sent the case back down to the lower court to determine legal "standing," i.e., whether the plaintiff in a case is the right injured party to bring the lawsuit. In the opinion issued recently, the federal judge panel spent a great deal of time analyzing the Plaintiffs standing in this case. The judges may have done this knowing that an appeal to the Supreme Court by the losers is likely.

The Court has ordered that there will be special elections in the affected districts in 2020 and that the Michigan legislature has until August 1st to draw new districts. This case could join other cases that are under review at the United States Supreme Court, but the ruling stands unless and until it is appealed.X:\Elizabeth\

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