Sarah Rahal and Beth LeBlanc, Detroit News, January 3, 2022
A group of Detroit lawmakers said Monday they plan to file suit in the Michigan Supreme Court over redistricting maps they argue disenfranchise Black candidates and, by extension, Black voters.
The congressional, state Senate and state House maps approved last week significantly decreased the number of majority-minority seats in the Michigan Legislature but also made gains in providing more partisan fairness toward Democrats, who have been subject to districts drawn by the Republican majority for decades.
The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, approved by voters in 2018, changed the way the once-in-a-decade redistricting process is done by giving that responsibility to a 13-member citizens panel made up of four Republicans, four Democrats and five non-partisan members.
“Unfortunately, the problem lies in the largest African American majority city in the nation has received the very short end of the stick,” said filing attorney Nabih Ayad. “The new redistricting map lines have unfairly discriminated against the city of Detroit, its residents and its elected officials.”
Among the lawmakers supporting the lawsuit are state Reps. Tenisha Yancey, D-Harper Woods; Tyrone Carter, D-Detroit; Helena Scott, D-Detroit; Stephanie Young, D-Detroit, and Mary Cavanagh, D-Redford Township. Detroit Democratic Sen. Betty Jean Alexander also supported the suit, as did former lawmakers Sherry Gay-Dagnogo and Teola Hunter.
“To allow for this to happen now is absolutely ludicrous, and I hope that my colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle are not being blinded by the fact that they have the opportunity to win the House to where they are going to allow the disenfranchisement of Black voters,” said Yancey, who is term-limited.
“We have to get into this fight and protect generations because representation matters,” he said. “And we should be tired of these portable politicians.”
Michigan Democratic Party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes said she did not wish to see the diversity of Michigan’s Legislature decrease.
“The MDP is committed to fighting to ensure fair representation for all Michiganders including giving Black and Brown voters the ability to elect their candidate of choice in a general election and in a primary,” Barnes said.
The plans approved by the commission a week ago “shattered” the goal of “an impartial, non-discriminatory, non-racist redistricting plan,” according to a copy of the group’s lawsuit provided to The Detroit News.
By breaking up Detroit’s majority-minority districts, the commission has diluted the Black minority vote in the area, a practice that “has long been banned by federal law pursuant to the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” the lawsuit said.
“The commission’s redistricting is a blatant and obvious ‘retrogression’ of the national and Michigan Civil Rights Movement and sets back the Black population of Michigan generations by undoing the hard-fought representation achieved by Detroiters and the Black community in Michigan over the last 70 years,” the document said.
For example, the lawsuit noted, not one Senate district in the new plan contains the city of Detroit. Instead, the city is divided into eight pieces and drawn into districts with majority-White communities such as Canton, Farmington, New Baltimore, Sterling Heights, Clinton Township, Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham and Madison Heights. It is likely the Black vote will be diluted in those districts, making it difficult to get a Black candidate of choice through primary elections, the suit argues.