For years, the Michigan GOP has held on to power thanks to extreme partisan gerrymandering in the state. A new court ruling means that's about to change.
A federal district court just dealt the Michigan GOP a massive blow by thwarting the party's attempt to manipulate elections with partisan gerrymandering.
On Thursday, a three-judge panel ruled that 34 of Michigan's 162 legislative districts were a gerrymander of "historical proportions." Back in 2011, Michigan's GOP-controlled legislature drew districts that were intended to dilute Democratic votes by scattering them into Republican-dominated areas. The gerrymandering covered both state legislative and federal congressional districts.
"The constitutional violations in this case are particularly severe," the panel wrote. "Evidence from numerous sources demonstrates that the map-drawers and legislators designed the Enacted Plan with the specific intent to discriminate against Democratic voters."
This scheme has worked quite well for the GOP thus far. Republicans have lost the overall popular vote in the state in six of the last nine elections, but they still won legislative majorities. That outcome was especially stark in 2018, when Democrats won every statewide office and almost 56% of the vote — yet still won only half of the state House seats.
These gerrymandered districts weren't accidents, nor were they the result, as the state GOP insisted, of simply drawing districts with the same amount of residents and trying not to split cities or counties. Emails that came to light during the trial showed Republican staffers bragging about figuring out “a glorious way that makes it easier to cram ALL of the Dem garbage” into certain districts.
The court ruled that all 34 legislative districts violated the First Amendment rights of Democratic voters. Under the First Amendment, people have the freedom of association — the right to gather together to express certain views. The gerrymandered maps, the court said, punished Democratic voters for their views because it put them in legislative districts where their votes no longer mattered.
Critically, the court also ruled that new districts have to be redrawn by Aug. 1 of this year so that they are in place for the 2020 election. The court even ordered special elections in 2020 for state Senate seats in the 34 districts, seats that otherwise wouldn't be up for elections until 2022.
Expect Michigan Republicans to go to great lengths to preserve their illegal districts. They've already misused their majority by trying to diminish the power of duly elected statewide Democrats and undermine laws supported by a majority of Michigan voters.
The Michigan GOP has indicated it will likely seek a stay, which would prevent the ruling from going into effect immediately. It's likely that stay will be granted because the United States Supreme Court is currently considering gerrymandering cases from both North Carolina and Maryland, and a Supreme Court decision may affect the Michigan legislative maps as well.
Still, this court decision is a sweeping victory not only for Democrats but for the constitutional rights of voters in Michigan generally. A number of other federal courts have now held that when the majority party draws districts unfairly, that's unconstitutional.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.