Civil rights department asks redistricting panel to reject, redraw Congressional maps

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is again calling out Michigan's Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission in a statement urging the panel to redraw its proposed Congressional district maps. 

The department argued the ability to elect a candidate of choice in Flint, Saginaw, Pontiac, Southfield, Taylor, Inkster, Hamtramck, Detroit and Redford could be denied if the commission adopts the proposed maps that dilute majority-minority districts. The threat to majority-minority districts is a violation of the Voting Rights Act, the department said. 

The proposed congressional maps contain zero majority Black districts, while Michigan's current congressional maps contain two majority Black districts in the 13th and 14th districts. 

“The maps under consideration do not measure up to the requirements of the law, and do not meet the test of fairness and equity that should be the goal of this Commission,” Jerome Reide, legislative liaison for the department, said in a statement.

“The Commission still has time to produce maps that will not dilute the minority vote or violate the Voting Rights Act.”

Edward Woods, a spokesman for the commission, responded Wednesday that the panel trusts "the counsel received from our Voting Rights attorney."

Brian Cartwright, left, signs up to speak during public comments, Wednesday afternoon, October 20, 2021.

The commission currently is more than halfway through a final 45-day public comment period on the maps before a final vote on Dec. 28. If at any point the commission decides to make changes to the maps, the 45-day clock would restart, delaying the final vote into 2022. 

During the final vote, the commission will consider 15 proposed maps and pick one of five congressional options, one of six state Senate options, and one of four state House options. Each of the Congressional options are predicted to produce seven Democratic seats and six Republican seats. 

Some of the commission maps have drawn criticism because the commission attempted to "unpack" parts of Detroit and move minority concentrations into districts with suburban populations. The effort, in some cases, created a better partisan balance across the state but also diluted majority-minority communities and decreased those communities' chances of getting a candidate of their choice through the primary. 

The department's Wednesday demand for changes to dilution is not the first from Michigan's civil rights leaders. 

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission approved a resolution last month urging the state's redistricting commission to consider minority representation when drawing the political maps that will govern state elections for the next decade. 

And at an Oct. 20 public hearing, the Department of Civil Rights Executive Director John Johnson, Jr., told the commission that its first set of draft maps violated the Voting Rights Act because they failed to preserve the ability for minority voters to elect candidates of color. 

The Department of Civil Rights argued Wednesday that U.S. Supreme Court precedent determines a protected majority-minority group based on whether a minority group is large and compact enough to create a majority in an electoral district, if a minority group is politically united and if the group historically votes as a group. 

If those coalitions are drawn into districts that don't allow the groups to elect candidates of their choice, that constitutes a violation of the Voting Rights Act, the department said. 

Additionally, the metro Detroit locations at risk of being diluted "bear the effects of discrimination," making them a priority for majority-minority districts. 

The department noted the Detroit majority-minority communities' inability to elect a Congressional candidate of choice until 1954, the Flint water crisis, and some of the majority-minority communities' lower socioeconomic status as proof they bore the "effects of discrimination."

“The Commission has a profound responsibility to draw electoral boundaries that protect the voting rights of all Michigan voters,” said Johnson, Jr.. 

“They must reject these flawed maps and offer options that do not erode the ability of minority voters to elect candidates who both look like them and reflect their policy preferences regarding the needs of their communities.”