Black leaders sue Michigan's redistricting commission over new maps

Jan 6, 2022 at 11:40 am
click to enlarge Michigan State House of Representatives chamber in Lansing. - Shutterstock
Michigan State House of Representatives chamber in Lansing.

A dozen Black lawmakers and leaders from metro Detroit sued Michigan’s redistricting commission Wednesday, arguing that recently approved state legislative and congressional maps are racially discriminatory and violate the Voting Rights Act.

The group is asking the Michigan Supreme Court to order the commission to draw new boundaries that keep “minority-majority” districts intact.

The new maps eradicate 17 of the 19 predominantly Black districts in Congress, the state Senate and the state House.

“The new voting district maps drawn by the Commission will thwart the Black Civil Rights Movement that this nation is famous for; that this nation is proud of,” attorney Nabih H. Ayad wrote in the suit. “Should this Court not stop the Defendant from implementing their Plans, the Black voters of Michigan will be cast backwards in time to the days before Civil Rights heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks led the fight for the representation that Detroiter's currently have. The community of interest that is the Detroit Black community, will go from one that can unite to become powerful enough to win the United States presidency for their chosen candidate to one that cannot even elect state congresspersons and senators; no matter what their voter turnout.”

Without predominantly Black districts, the lawsuit argues, African Americans will lose representation in Congress and the state Legislature.

The new maps split up Detroit, which is 79.1% Black, into numerous districts that now spread across suburban communities that are predominantly white, even though the city is “politically cohesive,” the lawsuit states.

In the 2020 presidential campaign, for example, President Joe Biden received 94% of the vote in Detroit and 50.6% in the rest of the state.

“These numbers make undeniably clear that the Black population of Detroit, Michigan, is a community of interest, which has its own preferred political candidates and which, when districts are mapped fairly, has the power to elect the representatives of their choice,” the lawsuit states.

The Voting Rights Act requires equal opportunity for minority voters to elect representatives of their choice. Opponents of the new districts argue that Michigan voters tend to vote for people who look like them, so fewer Black lawmakers would be elected under the new boundaries that are all majority white.

In December, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights said the maps violate the Voting Rights Act because they “dilute minority voting strength.”

The plaintiffs in the case are state Reps. Tenisha Yancey, Tyrone Carter, Helena Scott, Stephanie Young, and Mary Cavanagh; former state Reps. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo and Teola P. Hunter; state Sen. Betty Jean Alexander; Romulus City Councilwoman Virginia Williams; Keith Williams, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus; Carol Weaver, 14th Congressional District Executive Board member; and Natalie Bienaime, a resident of the 13th District.

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