Seven Michigan Republicans challenge new congressional district maps

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Seven Michigan Republicans have filed suit in federal court to challenge new congressional district maps that they say were drawn to fragment community boundaries unfairly and unnecessarily. 

The suit, the second filed so far against the Michigan maps adopted in late December by an independent redistricting commission, argued the adopted 13 congressional districts split 15, or 18%, of Michigan's 83 counties. Those split counties include Oakland County, which is fragmented into parts of six separate congressional districts. 

The map also "carves up" communities of interest that are required to be kept together under the state constitution and fails to comply with compactness criteria, the lawsuit said. 

"This is evidence that the commissioners did not apply its criteria in a neutral and consistent manner but rather in an inconsistent and arbitrary manner," the lawsuit said. 

In a statement, commission spokesman Edward Woods said commissioners "followed the seven ranked redistricting criteria stated in Michigan's constitution."

The suit contended the maps' "non-neutral" and "arbitrary" district lines violate the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause and the U.S. Constitution's "one person, one vote" principle as well as the constitutional amendment Michigan voters approved in 2018 to create the redistricting commission. 

The suit requested a three-judge panel to consider the case and order the maps redrawn. It proposed a "remedy map" that reduced the number of split counties from 15 to 10 and reduced fragmentation in those that are split. 

The remedy map, the lawsuit said "demonstrates that it was well within the commissioners' capacity to adopt a congressional map that complied with the 'one person, one vote' principle while leaving far more counties intact and greatly increasing the compactness of Michigan's congressional districts."

The lawsuit was filed by Republicans that include state Rep. Beau LaFave of Iron Mountain, former state Rep. Joe Graves of Linden, former 13th Congressional District candidate Harry Sawicki and two individuals associated with the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund: Mike Banerian and Cameron Pickford.

Consideration of county, city and township boundaries is listed second to last in the Michigan Constitution in the order of priorities commissioners must follow — after considerations such as districts reflecting equal population, geographic contiguity and communities of interest.

Commissioner M.C. Rothhorn, left, clasps hands with fellow Commissioner Steven T. Lett after the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission voted for new state political electoral maps at the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission meeting in Lansing, MI, Tuesday December 28, 2021.

The suit also challenged the commission's compliance with equal population criteria, noting two of the districts either overshoot or undershoot the 775,179-person limit per district by 487 and 635 people. 

The suit's challenge to compactness notes that the fifth congressional district in southern Michigan splits four of ten counties it covers and reaches from Michigan's eastern to western border. 

Separate from the federal suit filed Thursday, Detroit area leaders earlier this month filed suit in the Michigan Supreme Court over Detroit area maps they argued diluted the Black vote by combining historically majority-Black regions with White Democratic suburbs.

Detroit officials argue Black voters would not be able to get preferred Black candidates through a primary election when their vote is diluted by White Democratic voters in the suburbs. But redistricting commissioners and their legal advisers said the maps comply with the Voting Rights Act while attempting to spread out Democratic votes in Metro Detroit to undo what they contended was prior Republican gerrymandering.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com