As Chatfield probe continues, Nessel urges reforms to dark money in politics

GOP appeals Michigan gerrymandering ruling to Supreme Court

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Detail of Michigan Congressional maps approved by Republican-led Legislature in 2011.

Lansing — Michigan legislative and congressional Republicans are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a blockbuster ruling that the state’s political maps must be redrawn because of an unconstitutional gerrymander of “historical proportions.”  

Attorneys for GOP lawmakers on Tuesday filed notices of appeal with the U.S. District Court in Detroit, where a three-judge panel last week ordered officials to create new boundaries for at least 34 state House, Senate and congressional districts.

The brief notices did not include arguments for the appeal, which would be filed separately with the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorneys are also expected to seek a "stay" delaying the panel ruling while the nation's highest court considers separate gerrymandering cases out of North Carolina and Maryland.

At issue in the Michigan case are political maps approved by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011 and signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Snyder for the 2012 elections.

A federal panel comprised of two Democratic appointed judges and one Republican appointee last week unanimously ruled the maps violated the First and 14th Amendment rights of plaintiff voters who filed the federal lawsuit.

The districts were designed intentionally to dilute the power of Democratic voters to “entrench Republicans in power,” the panel ruled.

The order requires the Republican-led Legislature and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to finalize new maps by Aug. 1. The order applies to 34 specific districts but will likely force new lines for many others because of shared borders and geography.

Whitmer called the unanimous ruling a “powerful” decision and said Tuesday she hopes officials can “move swiftly to resolving this and redrawing districts that actually live up to our democratic values.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake had told reporters that Republicans would appeal the ruling. For now, the Legislature plans to comply with the initial order but leaders have not yet appointed committees to lead the new map-making effort. 

“It wasn’t the best surprise I’ve ever received,” Shirkey said of the ruling.

Redistricting can be a politically charged process and could throw a wrench in a legislative calendar already dominated by budget negotiations, complicating Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s push to raise gas taxes for road repairs and Republican efforts to reform the state’s no-fault auto insurance system.

“It’s a shiny object that we have to train ourselves not to pay attention to,” Shirkey said of the redistricting battle that looms if last week’s court order holds up. “But right now, everything’s kind of in limbo until the United States Supreme Court makes their rulings.”

Whitmer said the ruling could “certainly complicate things” in Lansing over the next few months. The governor had already called on legislative leaders to cancel a traditional summer break that usually lasts most of July and August.

“I’ve always said we should be here all summer working together, and now we’ve got another reason to do that,” Whitmer said.

Spokeswoman Amber McCann said Senate Republicans have not yet discussed modifying the summer calendar but remain “fluid” and “flexible” knowing their could be speed bumps during the first budget season under divided government in eight years.

“The Senate majority leader is still prepared to move forward with the agenda that we have set our sights on for the foreseeable future,” McCann said. “So that includes a budget, that includes hopefully progress on car insurance reform and ongoing discussions about long-term road funding.”

As The Detroit News reported Monday, last week’s gerrymandering ruling also raises questions about the application of the state’s toughest-in-the-nation term limits law, which allows state senators to serve a maximum of two terms.

It’s possible second-term state senators elected to serve through 2022 — including Democratic Minority Leader Jim Ananich of Flint — may be ineligible to run in the 2020 special election ordered by the three-judge panel. There's also concern in the Capitol that newly elected senators may only be allowed to serve a total of four years — as opposed to eight — if they are elected to a second two-year term.

“It’s one of the uncertainties — the unknowns — related to the ruling,” Shirkey said. “And as soon as we have some clarity as to what the Supreme Court’s going to do, that’ll be the next question that we have to finalize.”