U.S. Supreme Court delays Michigan gerrymandering decision

A rally to end gerrymandering outside the Supreme Court on 3/26/19, as the Justices hear a Maryland and North Carolina case on gerrymandering | Victoria Pickering Flickr

The U.S. Supreme Court decided Friday that it would put a Michigan gerrymandering case on hold as it weighs other, similar cases in North Carolina and Maryland.

Michigan Senate Districts

The nation’s high court delayed a final determination over the case, which challenges Republican gerrymandering in Michigan. Decisions in the other two high-profile cases in are expected this summer.

The Supreme Court’s Michigan decision was not unexpected. A separate redistricting case in Ohio also was stayed.

Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court delay follows a decision from a panel of three federal judges last month who agreed that the political district maps drawn by Michigan Republicans in 2011 constituted illegal gerrymandering, as the Michigan Advance previously reported.

The lower U.S. Eastern District Court ruled that Michigan must redraw maps of 34 congressional and legislative districts before the 2020 election, and that it must hold special state Senate elections next year for the off-cycle affected seats.

Current Michigan House districts

That ruling was a victory for the League of Women’s Voters, who brought the case, and for the Democrats who argued that the state’s districts were illegally gerrymandered to such an extent that they violated citizens’ constitutional rights.

Those districts were drawn at a time when Republicans controlled every level of state government, from the Legislature to the executive office, which was then held by former Gov. Rick Snyder.

Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox applauded the high court’s decision in a Friday statement.

Nancy Wang is the executive director of Voters Not Politicians, the nonprofit that ran the successful Proposal 2 of 2018, which created an independent redistricting commission that will begin drawing new political maps in 2022. She said Friday’s decision is a setback.

A protestor demonstrates during a Dec. 12, 2018, rally in the Capitol | Ken Coleman

“We are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision to put on hold the lower court’s requirement that the legislature redraw Michigan’s district maps for the 2020 elections,” Wang said in a statement. “We remain committed to doing everything in our power to ensure the new redistricting process is successful so Michigan voters are not subjected to maps that are rigged against them.”

The Advance reported earlier this month that the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t approach a clear consensus on gerrymandering during March’s oral arguments over the Maryland and North Carolina cases. Its conservative justices were reluctant to evaluate the partisanship of state congressional maps, and openly pondered whether states had more appropriate remedies to ensure voters’ fair representation.

Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein covers the governor’s office, criminal justice and the environment. Before that, he wrote about state government and politics for the Detroit News, the Associated Press and MIRS News and won a Society of Professional Journalism award for open government reporting. He studied philosophy at Michigan State University, where he wrote for both The State News and Capital News Service. He began his journalism career freelancing for The Sturgis Journal, his hometown paper.

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