State Watch

Michigan Republicans sue over US House district lines

Republicans have filed federal suit against Michigan’s new independent redistricting commission over congressional district lines adopted last month that they say violate both federal and state standards.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, alleges the commission ran afoul of established rules in two ways: First, the districts drawn are of unequal populations in violation of U.S. Supreme Court precedent. And second, the Republicans allege the commission ranked varying priorities over others in an arbitrary way that violated state law.

“Michigan’s redistricting commission played fast and loose with its own rules and criteria from the very beginning,” said Adam Kincaid, president and executive director of the Fair Lines America Foundation, the nonprofit wing of the National Republican Redistricting Trust. “We’re glad to support plaintiffs in this case who seek to hold the commissioners accountable for their failure to adopt maps that follow the law.”

The suit points to population disparities between districts that are slightly unbalanced: A southern district currently represented by Rep. Tim Walberg (R) has about 635 fewer residents than Michigan’s average congressional district should have, while a Detroit-area district represented by Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D) has 487 more people than the statewide average.

Those variances are just a fraction of a percentage point off the 775,179 residents who should live in an average congressional district in Michigan, based on the results of the 2020 Census.

But even slight variations matter, and most states draw their boundary lines to come as close to exactly even as possible. In neighboring Indiana, legislators crafted maps that deviate from the statewide average of 753,949 residents by no more than a single person.

The lawsuit also claims the commission favored criteria of partisan fairness over other priorities meant to be considered first, including compactness of districts and the existing boundaries of local government entities like counties, cities and towns. Favoring one criterion over others, the plaintiffs said, violated their 14th Amendment rights.

“[W]hen the Commissioners arbitrarily and inconsistently applied their state constitutional requirements of keeping counties and townships whole and maintaining communities of interest, they violated the Equal Protection Clause,” the lawsuit alleges.

Spokespeople for Michigan’s redistricting commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Republican suit is the second challenge to the state’s district maps filed in recent days, after a group of Detroit-area Black legislators challenged district map lines they said would improperly dilute the voices of minority communities across the state.

“The largest African American majority city in the nation has received the very short end of the stick,” Nabih Ayad, the lead lawyer for the Democratic legislators suing over the map, told reporters earlier this month.

In the new suit, Republicans asked the federal court to convene a three-judge panel to consider the district lines and their allegations.

Both cases, filed three months before candidate filing begins in a state critical to the national battle for control of Congress, are likely to make quick progress through the legal system. Federal courts that rule against congressional or legislative district lines typically remand maps found in violation back to the group that has authority to draw boundaries, either the legislature or, in Michigan’s case, its redistricting commission, established by voters last decade through a ballot initiative.

Any substantial changes to Michigan’s lines could impact the fight for the Speaker’s gavel in Washington. The map adopted by the redistricting commission creates four Democratic-leaning seats and six seats that lean toward Republicans, as well as three seats — currently represented by Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D), Dan Kildee (D) and Peter Meijer (R) — in which both parties would likely be competitive.

At the time the new maps were adopted, Democrats offered limited praise. The chief national Democratic group that oversees redistricting efforts, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, issued a statement from former Attorney General Eric Holder calling the process a success.

“The commission process can be messy – it requires scrutiny, public input, accountability from diverse communities seeking equal representation, and well-balanced debate. No one gets everything they want, and everyone has to compromise. But that is how a commission is supposed to work and, in turn, it is a reflection of how American democracy should function,” Holder said at the time.

Tags Brenda Lawrence Dan Kildee Elissa Slotkin Eric Holder Peter Meijer Tim Walberg

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