The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a request to stop the redrawing of seven Michigan state House districts.
The order was issued Monday in response to an appeal of a lower court’s decision declaring the districts unconstitutional.
Michigan’s redistricting commission has been redrawing the boundaries to follow the lower court order while it awaited word from the high court.
The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission took that effort to Detroit on Monday, starting off a series of in-person map-drawing meetings. It was a chance for community members to advise the commission face-to-face about how it should redraw seven state House districts.
A court declared the districts unconstitutional last month, ruling that the commission’s focus on race in drawing the district boundaries violated the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment equal protection clause.
Former state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo is among the metro Detroit plaintiffs in the case that had the former districts thrown out. She said she worries about the commission’s knowledge of and outreach to Detroiters.
“They just don’t seem to be well informed, unfortunately, and I think that’s going to be problematic,” she said on Monday. “They also have not done their due diligence in making sure that information is out in the community.”
Despite posting a meeting notice to its website and hosting a Friday press conference to get the word out, few people showed up in person for the first Detroit meeting. The large room booked at Huntington Place appeared largely empty throughout day.
Detroit native and Warren resident Michael Howard was among the handful of people who spoke during in-person public comment. Howard urged the commission to keep communities of interest together, but be careful not to restore a rift between the city and its northern suburbs.
“One thing that just cannot be done is restoring the 8 Mile barrier. Anyone that’s ever picked up a history book can see quickly how problematic that has been,” he said. “It’s detrimental, not just for the city of Detroit, to the city of Warren, to Center Line, but it’s detrimental to our region, our country, our state.”
Previous district maps have faced heavy criticism for carving majority-Black Detroit into districts shared with its whiter suburbs to avoid diluting Black voters.
Gay-Dagnogo said it’s possible for districts to continue to cross the so-called 8 Mile divide but urged the commission to be cautious and thoughtful about it. She said districts should allow predominantly Black Detroiters to represent themselves.
“Making sure that you push a small population of Detroit into a district that kind of blurs the 8 Mile line won’t blur racism. It won’t take away the savage inequalities. It won’t give a voice to those who suffer the most,” Gay-Dagnogo said.
Many of the commission’s drafts for a re-draw go beyond the court’s ruling and affect districts that the court left in place. Among other areas, some commissioners have spent time discussing how to handle what Michigan’s redistricting law calls “communities of interest.” Groups the commission focused on included Arab-American voting blocs around Dearborn and Mexican-American voters around southwest Detroit.
That led to a moment of frustration near the end of the day over how the commission has been discussing certain communities of interest but not Black voters. The commission’s attorney, Nate Fink, explained that the law considered nationalities different from races and reiterated the court’s instructions.
“Under the law, and specifically the court’s opinion, the court expressed significant concern with the commission’s use of race during its mapping process,” Fink said.
But Commissioner Juanita Curry raised concerns over her perception of a double standard as she saw the commission working hard to keep other ethnic voting groups together.
“We’ve used [race] all evening for every nationality but the Blacks and that’s who sued. That’s who did the suing,” Curry said.
Fink countered by pointing out some of Curry’s examples would fall under the category of nationality, not race. The two continued back and forth until finally reaching an impasse.
Fink encouraged the group to treat race as separate from other communities of interest to ensure compliance with the court ruling. Curry said she wouldn’t play along anymore, encouraging other commissioners to join in on her concerns.
“All I’ve heard about is the Mexicans, the [Bangladeshis], the Arabs, the other nationalities. And I don’t have anything against any other nationality. But, (as) soon as I said Black, we can’t use race. We’re a nationality too,” Curry said.
The meeting came to a tense end with discussion continuing a motion to adjourn. The group is scheduled to next meet on Tuesday.