Saturday, April 27, 2019

Michigan Gerrymandering Case

Gerrymandering is when a political party redistricts in an unfair partisan method so that its political dominance and ability to win elections is maximized while the ability of rival parties or disfavored minorities to do the same are minimized. 

Both parties do this although the Republicans have arguably taken it to new heights, or lows, depending on your point of view. Courts have been reluctant to get deeply involved in such disputes, often taking the stance that with certain egregious exceptions, redistricting is an inherently political process and not so much a legal one. 

Parties compete to win control of government precisely to draw political boundaries for their own benefit. But courts do occasionally step in and force the legislative branches to make changes. We just saw an example of this in Michigan.

Detroit — Michigan must redraw legislative and congressional districts for the 2020 election because current maps drawn by Republicans represent a political gerrymander “of historical proportions,” a three-judge federal panel ruled Thursday. The blockbuster ruling — which a legislative leader said Republicans will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court — requires Michigan to conduct special state Senate elections for certain seats next year, cutting in half the four-year terms that current lawmakers are now serving. 

The “predominate purpose” of the redistricting plan approved by the Michigan Legislature in 2011 “was to subordinate the interests of Democratic voters and entrench Republicans in power,” said the unanimous decision written by U.S. Circuit Judge Eric Clay, an appointee of Democratic President Bill Clinton. 

“Therefore, the enacted plan constitutes a durable partisan gerrymander" that violates the First and 14th Amendment rights of plaintiff voters, the court concluded. 

The panel is giving the Republican-led House and Senate until Aug. 1 to redraw the maps and get them signed into law by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The judges said they want all the parties and processes used in the redistricting process to be made public, including any alternative plans that the Legislature rejects. If state officials do not finalize new maps by then, the federal court would draw new boundaries itself and could appoint a special master to do so. But a pending decision from the High Court involving two other states may make Thursday's Michigan ruling moot. 

Republicans have denied overt political bias in the map-making process. But email communications by staff entered into evidence in the federal lawsuit included partisan references and commentary on the prospects of maintaining GOP power, including a request to "cram Dem garbage" into certain districts and praise for "giving the finger" to a Democratic lawmaker. 

New political maps could give Democrats a narrow chance next year to flip control of the House and Senate, where Republicans currently enjoy six-seat advantages. But they would only apply to 2020 because a new voter-approved independent citizen commission will draw new districts in future election cycles. LINK

As the article mentions the Supreme Court is already considering cases similar to this one. Regardless of how any of those cases are decided, it's important for voters in every state to realize that ultimately they have the last say, not the politicians. Michigan voters created new citizen commissions to create districts. Will they be perfect. Probably not. But the commissions will hopefully work better than self-interested political parties whose primary interests are to protect incumbents and screw over their counterparts.
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