Michigan commission urges court to reject redistricting challenge

State lawmakers sue Michigan Redistricting Commission

DETROIT – An attorney for Michigan’s redistricting commission defended new maps for seats in Congress and the Legislature on Wednesday and urged the state Supreme Court to dismiss a challenge filed by Black lawmakers.

The lawsuit seeks to have some boundaries redrawn because the maps reduce the number of seats where Black residents account for a majority of the voting-age population.

But Katherine McKnight, an election law specialist, said the proposed fix becomes a “danger” by concentrating the voting power of minorities in fewer districts.

“There are a number of districts where the minority community is afforded an opportunity to elect its candidate of choice, even though the minority voting-age population is lower than the majority. ... The minority community has greater influence in more districts in the enacted plan,” McKnight said.

Detroit, where Black people are about 80% of the population, had five state Senate districts under the previous map. It will be part of eight districts under the new map with the seats also including areas of Oakland and Macomb counties.

An attorney for the challengers, Nabih Ayad, said he doesn't need to show a discriminatory intent, only a discriminatory result.

“It's almost going to be impossible for these African American candidates to win,” he argued.

But McKnight said the plaintiffs can't meet key conditions, under a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court voting rights decision, to take their case any further.

The lawsuit disputes the work of a 13-member commission that was created by voters to take mapmaking out of the hands of politicians. More than 130 hearings were open to the public before new boundaries were approved in December.

The maps have veteran politicians and newcomers scrambling to look at the new lines and consider a run for office.

They are created every decade after the federal census accounts for population gains or losses. Only one current justice, Brian Zahra, was on the Supreme Court during the last redistricting process, but a map fight didn't reach the court.

Much of the questioning centered on whether to give the challengers time — and perhaps money — to develop a deeper analysis of the maps and their impact.

“We are in uncharted territory as far as our authority. ... We’re figuring this out, too. We want to make sure we’re doing this correctly,” Justice Megan Cavanagh said.


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