Michigan Supreme Court denies request to extend redistricting deadline amid census delays

Independent redistricting panel expects maps to be completed months beyond deadline

The Michigan Supreme Court on Friday denied a petition to grant relief to the state’s redistricting panel, who expects to adopt new congressional and legislative maps months later than allowed by the constitution.

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in April asked the state Supreme Court to extend the existing Nov. 21, 2021 deadline to redraw districts in the state, as census data required for redistricting has been significantly delayed amid the pandemic.

U.S. census data, gathered every 10 years, is used to redraw congressional and legislative districts in each state, in addition to determining how many congressional seats each state gets, and how to distribute federal funds each year.

The U.S. Census Bureau is not expected to release redistricting data until mid-August, and it may not be available in an easy-to-use format until the end of September. MICRC officials say, given those delays, they expect the process to last through Jan. 25 -- nearly three months after the deadline outlined in the state’s constitution.

“Being out of compliance with the Constitution places the Commission in an untenable situation,” lawyers for Benson and the MICRC wrote in April. “A decision from this Court here would protect the Commission’s ability to draw fair and lawful plans pursuant to the orderly and transparent process chosen by the People of Michigan.”

But the Michigan Supreme Court voted not to extend the deadline to protect the MICRC from potential future legal action for not abiding by the constitution, despite acknowledging that the panel’s work and original timeline was, by no fault of their own, disrupted by the census bureau’s several-month delay.

“By our decision today, we have declined the invitation to clothe the commission or the Secretary of State with any lawsuit-proof vest. The risk of future lawsuits—however likely and however inconvenient to the commission’s ongoing work—is insufficient reason to justify the relief requested. Nor should we provide binding direction when it appears that the commission, an independent constitutional actor, has already decided that delay is necessary. At oral argument, the commission’s counsel implied that the commission intends to follow its delayed schedule with or without our advance imprimatur, a path it believes is most consistent with its competing obligation of ensuring a fair and transparent redistricting process that allows for meaningful public participation.”

Statement from the Michigan Supreme Court

The state’s redistricting panel says that it hopes to finish developing the maps prior to Jan. 25 if census redistricting data becomes available sooner than expected -- but that scenario is unlikely.

In June, 15 Republican-led states sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce urging that the census bureau releases redistricting data right away, arguing that the delay is impacting the states’ abilities to adequately and accurately redraw districts ahead of the 2022 election cycle.

The state of Ohio sued the bureau in an effort to have them release redistricting data as soon as possible, as the deadline to do so was March 31 of this year. The census bureau previously said they would not be able to meet that deadline due to delays caused by the pandemic. In a settlement, the bureau agreed to release the redistricting data no later than Aug. 16.

More: Census data delay scrambles plans for state redistricting

The Michigan Supreme Court said Friday that should legal action be made against the MICRC and Benson over delayed redistricting, the court will consider all factors contributing to the delay and the panel’s overall mission. The court only denied the petition because it believed that the “anticipatory relief sought is unwarranted.”

Read the Michigan Supreme Court’s entire order below.

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.