Community groups to file suit against Michigan House map, claiming bias toward GOP

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Voter and community advocacy groups said Friday they plan to file suit against the Michigan redistricting commission's new state House map based on allegations that the maps are unfairly biased toward Republicans.

The lawsuit — the third filed against the new maps this month — is set to be filed next week in the Michigan Supreme Court.

Groups filing the suit including the League of Women Voters of Michigan, Detroit Action, and Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote. 

The House map approved by the commission has a 5.3% bias toward Republican candidates and is expected to produce 57 Democratic seats and 53 Republican seats, according to commission experts. Democrats outnumber Republicans in Michigan's population. 

"The voters were very clear in 2018 that the goal of Proposal 2 was to end partisan bias in our legislative districts," said Mark Brewer, an longtime election lawyer and former Michigan Democratic Party chairman representing the groups. "The commission failed to achieve a mandatory goal of the Michigan Constitution. We think we have a very strong case, and you’ll see that all laid out next week.”

The commission is aware of the press conference held Friday to announce the litigation, panel spokesman Edward Woods said.  

"As the fourth-ranked priority in the redistricting process, the commission still believes that it followed the seven-ranked redistricting criteria stated in Michigan’s Constitution for the Michigan congressional, House and Senate maps," Woods said.

Commissioner Dustin Witjes listens to public comment at the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission meeting in Lansing on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021.

The League of Women Voters plan to propose alternative maps to demonstrate the districts could have been drawn to meet the requirements of partisan fairness while still complying with other criteria in the Constitution. 

"The commission's own analyst on these issues indicated across every measure she used that all the maps remained biased, including the House map," Brewer said. 

The groups filing the suit were some of the most active during the redistricting process, educating their members and speaking at meetings for weeks. League of Women Voters was active in passing the constitutional amendment that created Michigan's Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. 

In a call with reporters, those groups said they were concerned over the speed with which commissioners approved the maps. The panel's time frame for drawing and approving the maps was abbreviated by late census data on the front end and a mid-April candidate filing deadline looming at the back end.  

"No community has suffered more from Michigan’s unfair map-making process than Detroit, which is home to some of the most extreme cases of packing and gerrymandering," said Branden Snyder of Detroit Action. "The commission did not take the time that they needed to provide Michigan and Detroiters with fair maps that the constitution called for.”

Two other lawsuits that preceded the one announced Friday challenge separate aspects of the maps. 

A lawsuit filed in the Michigan Supreme Court by the Detroit Caucus challenges the racial fairness of the map, alleging that the commission's efforts to "unpack" majority-Black Detroit and stretch districts into Detroit's left-leaning White suburbs diluted the Black vote. The caucus, which argued in the Michigan Supreme Court Wednesday, maintained the new diluted districts would make it nearly impossible to get a preferred minority candidate through the primary. 

The redistricting commission has maintained it is possible because Michigan has a burgeoning White crossover vote for minority-preferred candidates.

In federal court, seven Michigan Republicans filed suit earlier this month to challenge the maps' disregard for county and municipal boundaries and the effect that would have on communities' representation in Congress. 

Consideration of county and municipal boundaries is required in the Michigan Constitution but it is listed lower in priority compared to compliance with equal distribution, the Voting Rights Act and partisan fairness.