Editorial: Gerrymander ruling hands Michigan a mess

The Detroit News
Map shows boundaries of Michigan's congressional districts since 2013.

A Republican Legislature and a Democratic governor must come to agreement on new political maps in just three months, under orders from a three-judge federal appeals court panel. Good luck with that.

The Sixth Circuit ruling throws Lansing into chaos, assuring that not much else, if anything, of import will get done between now and Aug. 1.

That's the deadline the panel set for remedying what it found was partisan gerrymandering in the maps drawn before the 2012 elections, when Republicans controlled the process. The judges found convincing evidence the GOP manipulated congressional and state House and Senate districts to give itself a significant advantage, in violation of the Constitution.

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The lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters targeted 34 legislative and congressional districts that the court now says must be redrawn, along with any bordering districts if necessary to achieve a more representative map.

Finding a balance Republicans and Democrats can agree on, and that is suitable to the court, will likely require that far more of the state's 162 districts be reshaped than those named in the suit. If the governor and Legislature can't agree on a redraw by the Aug. 1 deadline, the court will choose a special master from nominations submitted by the two parties to complete the task.

State senators aren't up for re-election until 2022, but the court ordered early elections to be held in the affected districts in 2020.

The judges added the complicating requirement that the new districts be drawn based on 2010 Census data, which doesn't reflect population and demographic changes over the past decade.  

What a mess.

Meanwhile, take other pressing issues, including raising new revenue to fix the roads and reforming no-fault insurance, off the table.

Lawmakers, particularly senators, facing unfamiliar voters in 2020 will be a tough sell on the 45-cent per gallon fuel tax hike Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is asking them to approve.  

The panel's sweeping order may have been supported by the evidence, but as a solution it seems too much too late. 

In the three elections since the 2012 redistricting, Republicans have seen much of the partisan edge they drew for themselves slip away. In 2018, the GOP lost two congressional seats that had been considered safely Republican when drawn. Democrats also picked up 10 legislative seats that had been held by Republicans.

In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments this spring in a pair of gerrymandering cases that could impact the Michigan lawsuit when a ruling is issued in June. Michigan will be racing down the path of redrawing maps before learning the high court's opinion on how whether partisan gerrymandering should be limited, and the judiciary's role in altering political maps.

The appeals court panel should have taken into account that Michigan voters addressed gerrymandering by passing a ballot measure last fall that turns over the redistricting process to an independent commission. Putting Michigan through this much turmoil for one election seems pointless. 

Republicans are expected to ask the Supreme Court for a stay of the panel's order. Hopefully the justices will comply.