Federal appeals panel rules Michigan gerrymandering lawsuit can go to trial

Posted at 3:06 PM, Nov 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-30 15:06:41-05

A federal appeals panel has ruled in favor of a group suing the state over Michigan's 2011 redistricting, saying their lawsuit can move forward and go to trial.

In a 2-1 ruling, U.S. Sixth Circuit Court Judge Eric Clay and U.S. District Judge Denise Hood, based in Detroit, said the League of Women Voters of Michigan could move forward with their suit against Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson because the redistricting plan "caused their individual injury by diluting their votes."

The ruling also mentioned Gill v. Whitford, which the Supreme Court unanimously rejected earlier this year, claiming that the plaintiffs should have focused on proving certain districts were gerrymandered instead of focusing on the entire state.

In a dissenting opinion, U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist, based in Grand Rapids, said he agreed with the majority opinion that the League satisfied standing on a district-by-district basis, but failed to support standing for a statewide claim.

According to the order, between 2012 and 2016, Republicans won 64 percent of Michigan's congressional districts but never won more than 50.5 percent of the statewide vote. At the same time, the order also said they won at least 53.6 percent of House districts but never got more than 50.3 percent of the total vote.

In 2018, Democrats won half of the Congressional districts after flipping two from Republican to Democrat, and Democrats won 55.8 percent of the vote. They also won only 52 of the 110 House districts despite getting 52.6 percent of the vote.

According to the ruling, the League submitted evidence of district-specific injuries through an expert report from Dr. Jowei Chen, an associate professor of political science at the University of Michigan.

Chen analyzed the 2011 re-districting plans and used a simulation process that generated 1,000 of each alternative Congressional districts, state house and state senate districts. The simulation "ignores all partisan and racial considerations."

In analyzing those districts, Dr. Chen found that nine of the Congressional districts were "partisan outliers." There are 14 Congressional districts in Michigan.

Here is the breakdown:

  • Congressional districts 5, 9 and 12 pack Democrats together to "an unusual degree." According to the ruling, each of those districts actually pack Democrats more tightly than any of the 1,000 computer generated scenarios
  • Districts 4, 7, 8 and 10 are partisan outliers because they crack Democratic voters. Chen said in most simulations, they would be competitive or "slightly Democratic-leaning."
  • Districts 1 and 11 are partisan outliers because they would contain even more Republican voters than now. They also crack Democratic voters because a high number of Dems are placed there to dilute voting power

In a separate ruling, the judges also ruled 2-1 that state legislators could not intervene in the lawsuit while Congressional legislators could intervene. According to that order, the judges said the state legislature's motion to intervene was not timely and came 4 1/2 months after Congressional intervenors filed their motion. Quist also dissented in this ruling, saying that the political landscape has changed since the Nov. 6 election after a Democrat, Jocelyn Benson, was elected as Michigan's next secretary of state.

"Individual plaintiffs have presented evidence that they actually live in allegedly packed or cracked districts," the ruling reads.