By David Fleet
On April 25 a panel of three federal judges ruled that 34 congressional and state legislative districts in Michigan are extreme partisan gerrymanders and unconstitutional. Of those areas possibly impacted by the ruling are the 51st State House, voters in Atlas and Groveland townships along with Village of Goodrich; the 14th State Senate and the 8th Congressional District covering Atlas, Brandon and Groveland townships.
In the 146-page opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Eric Clay ordered state lawmakers to redraw maps in time for elections in 2020. The opinion, was joined by District Chief Judge Denise Hood and District Judge Gordon Quist.
The judges ruled in favor of the League of Women Voters of Michigan along with 11 other plaintiffs that their First and Fourteenth Amendment challenges to the state and congressional redistricting plans.
“Today is a great victory for the voters of Michigan and for our democracy,” wrote Judy Karandjeff, President of the League of Women Voters of Michigan in a news release. “The state will now draw new district lines before the next federal election, which now will better reflect the makeup of the voters – not the interests of the politicians.”
The League went to court over the current district maps, drawn in 2011 after the 2010 census. Michigan will be required to implement new maps in time for the 2020 election and before the next redistricting cycle in 2021. Covering both state and congressional district maps, this case is the only one of its kind in the country.
“My office is aware of the recent ruling made by the federal court regarding the 2011 reapportionment plan and I have no comment at this time,” said State Rep. Mike Mueller (R-Linden) 51st District. “I would like to remain impartial throughout this process, as the districts were re-drawn long before I was elected to office. I understand that some concerns may arise as to how the court ruling will work for the 2020 election cycle, but it is my hope that an agreement will be struck that works for everyone.”
According to news sources, on Tuesday the Republican-led Michigan Senate and three individual senators are appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. Currently the high court is deliberating two other partisan gerrymander cases involving congressional districts in North Carolina and Maryland.
“We presented evidence showing a clear intent by the state legislature to dilute the power of voters and draw themselves into safe districts,” said Mark Brewer, an Attorney at Goodman Acker, in a press release from the League of Women Voters. “With the April 25 decision, new maps will move the state closer to ensuring voters are picking their representatives, not the other way around.”
Candee Allen, Brandon Township clerk said if the district lines change, township taxpayers would spend approximately $6,500 to purchase supplies, mail out over 12,000 voter I.D. cards in addition to pay for the manpower.
“Gerrymandering is a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or special interest groups,” said Allen. “To date, Michigan doesn’t require registered voters to declare a party affiliation. There is no possible way to know how many individual party people live any given township, as residents move in and out of Brandon Township on a daily basis. Since Michigan does not require party affiliation as a voter, this issue is a moot point.”
The panel wrote that it was joining “the growing chorus of federal courts” that have held that drawing districts to unfairly favor the party in power is unconstitutional. The judges said the maps violated Democratic voters’ constitutional rights.
Senator Ruth Johnson (R-Groveland Township) was elected to the 14th District which includes Atlas, Brandon and Groveland townships along with other communities in Genesee and Oakland counties in November 2018. The district could be impacted by the redistricting.
“This is an ongoing lawsuit which began in December 2017,” said Johnson on Wednesday during an interview with The Citizen. “As Secretary of State at the time, I was the named defendant as the chief election officer of the state. Newly-elected Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson assumed this role in January. Because this is still an ongoing matter which is currently in the appeals process I am unable to comment about the content of the lawsuit.”
But in the Michigan ruling, the three judges said emphatically that inaction was not an option.
“Federal courts must not abdicate their responsibility to protect American voters from this unconstitutional and pernicious practice that undermines our democracy,” they wrote, adding that failing to protect voters’ rights “will only increase the citizenry’s growing disenchantment with, and disillusionment in, our democracy.”
Patti Back, is the Groveland Township clerk located in the 51st House of Representative District.
“Our Township is located in the congressional, state House and state Senate districts named in the suit,” said Back. “However, at this time we are waiting to see how it will affect the township. When the process is complete, voters in Groveland will be notified of any changes.”