Question 1): Former state legislators from Detroit, as well as their constituents and their attorneys, last week denounced the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) for “its discriminatory practices” by drastically cutting the number of majority-Black districts in its 2022 maps.
MIRS newsletter reported that ex-state Rep. Sherry GAY-DAGNOGO hosted a press conference at St. John St. Luke United Church last Wednesday as a precursor to the upcoming November 1 trial in Agee v. Benson, a March 2022 lawsuit that initially challenged 10 House Districts and seven Senate districts that they say diluted the Black voters’ voice in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.
“It has been a sad display of ridiculousness to see what’s happening within our community when it comes to making sure that black representation matters,” said plaintiff Natalie BIEN-AIME, who attended more than 20 MICRC meetings in an effort to have her voice heard.
“… The maps crack all our communities of color, diluting our voice, our vote. It has weakened our strategic opportunity to have representation in the city of Detroit,” she added.
The general theme of the group’s press conference today was that the Congressional and state House and Senate maps must be redrawn so as not to dilute the black vote (See “Redistricting Commission Adopts Maps For Congress, Senate, House,” 12/28/21).
Edward WOODS III, MICRC executive director, said in a statement that MICRC “followed the seven-ranked redistricting criteria in creating maps for the Congressional, state Senate and state House districts” as mandated by the state Constitution.
“We look forward to our stellar legal team proving this again in court,” he said.
The MICRC approved its maps in December 2021. The final maps reduced the number of majority-Black districts from 11 to seven in the House and from two to ZERO in the Senate. The Congressional maps drawn by the MICRC are not part of the suit, although they, too, were drawn with no majority-minority districts.
Jennifer GREEN, an attorney with Clark-Hill Equity who represents the plaintiffs, said as a result of the new maps, the Black Caucus lost 20% of its representation in 2022.
In August, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court dismissed some challenged state legislative districts, but held that the plaintiffs could move forward with a challenge against House Districts 1, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12 and 14 as well as Senate Districts 1, 3, 6, 8, 10 and 11 (See “State’s Legislative Maps Going To Trial In Federal Court,” 8/30/23).
A common trend of the affected districts is that they are geographically long north-and-south strips that connect Detroit with its neighboring suburbs.
Caledonia attorney John J. BURSCH, who argued on behalf of the plaintiffs, told MIRS at the time that they only “need to win in one district in each chamber and they have to redraw the maps.”
A final pretrial conference was held Thursday with the trial set for Nov. 1 in federal court in Kalamazoo. At trial, the main issue will be about whether the MICRC went too far in lowering black voter percentages in Detroit. The MICRC’s attorneys argued at the time that the districts need only be 40% Black because, at that point, a Black candidate has a “puncher’s chance” of winning the seats.
Gay-Dagnogo disagreed. Traditionally, Michigan has operated under the belief that a certain number of districts must be at least 50% Black. She called it “appalling that an entity operating under a Democratic Secretary of State, which has relied heavily on the black vote, would perpetuate discrimination, further disenfranchising African-American voters.”
So, what about this lawsuit? Does it have a “puncher’s chance”of winning? And why has this obvious issue waited so long to come to a head?