Court OKs redistricting commission’s map for Detroit area House districts

The decision means maps drawn by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission will be used in the November general election.

A federal court last week approved a new plan for Michigan’s state House districts around metro Detroit. That’s after judges declared seven districts in the old map unconstitutional because they were drawn predominantly based on race, in violation of the 14th Amendment.

The decision means maps drawn by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) will be used in the November general election, rather than a backup plan drawn by a court-appointed expert.

That’s good news to Voters Not Politicians Executive Director Jamie Lyons-Eddy. In 2018, Voters Not Politicians spearheaded the constitutional amendment that created the redistricting commission, which was designed to draft its maps in public view.

Lyons-Eddy said the court expert’s maps would have been “bad for Michigan.”

“These are maps the public has not even seen. There is a real risk here…Those maps were drawn without the public input and transparency that voters overwhelmingly demanded back in 2018,” Lyons-Eddy said Wednesday, before the court’s decision came down.

The commission had faced a lot of doubt going into this redraw. Almost a quarter of the commission resigned late last year. And infighting had spilled over into meetings.

Now that the House redraw is over, the commission will now repeat the process for metro Detroit state Senate districts, which the court also struck down.

Commission chair Anthony Eid said the group is up to the task.

“Even under stressful times, a stressful decision, three new commissioners who have jumped into the fray and have been doing their jobs great, and everything. I think we’ve shown that we can come together and get the job done,” Eid said during a press conference.

But the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that overturned the old maps are skeptical.

One issue with the overturned plan was how it handled metro Detroit’s legislative districts. Several House districts combined the heavily Black city with its whiter suburbs.

“We knew that they were racially gerrymandered,” former state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo said.

Gay-Dagnogo was among the Black metro Detroit officials who sued.

The lawsuit argued the commission purposely kept Black populations in those districts too low for them to realistically elect their candidates of choice. Gay-Dagnogo said it’s a problem that the number of Black state lawmakers dropped under the struck-down plan.

“Justice would be denied, not because people don’t empathize with the Black struggle. But they don’t understand it because they haven’t lived it. And that’s why it’s important to have representation that looks like African Americans, that looks like us, that understand our struggle,” she said.

The redistricting commission’s remedy plan changes 15 districts in all. It still combines the city and its suburbs into new districts. But it also increased the number of majority-Black districts.

The plaintiffs opposed the new plan for various reasons. They argued it could’ve done more to create majority Black districts and that it was suspicious that none of the incumbents in the affected districts were drawn in together.

Though they saw it as a better alternative than what had existed.

Still, Gay-Dagnogo said this saga has shown the commission needs more oversight and training.

“You’re putting 13 commissioners — citizens — in a role that they had no prior training, no prior understanding, meeting virtually, trusting experts to guide them that led them astray,” she said.

Depending how you look at it, that could either be a key feature or a bug of having randomly selected Michiganders with no political experience lead a vital political process.

Matt Grossman is director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University. He said it’s important to remember that the commission handled race how it did because of advice it got from its experts.

“A lot of the process here is still that these are amateurs being guided by lawyers and they do what their lawyers say. That’s what got them into trouble the first time. Hopefully it gets them out of trouble this time. But it still doesn’t solve the process point,” Grossman said.

Grossman said, despite some of their pitfalls, the commission did succeed in creating fairer maps for the state. He expects the Senate redraw to be smoother now the commission has seen what the court would accept.

As for the plaintiffs, Gay-Dagnogo said she hopes the commission does a better job reaching out and working with the community than it did with the House redraw.

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