In a surprise move last month, a three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals unanimously ordered Michigan to draw new legislative district maps by August 1st. Considering the state is already mandated to redraw its legislative districts in time for the 2022 election cycle, the question becomes, why now?
While the Michigan GOP had requested the same three-judge federal panel to put its own gerrymandering order on hold pending the outcome of similar cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, the judges have recently denied that request. So what does that mean for Michigan politics?
The ruling does not call for new maps statewide, but specifically focuses on the following districts:
Congressional Districts: 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Senate Districts: 8, 11, 12, 14, 18, 27, 36
House Districts: 24, 32, 51, 55, 60, 62, 63, 75, 83, 91, 94, 95
While not all districts are technically affected by this ruling, practically speaking, several more districts will be impacted simply by their proximity to those districts required to change. This will likely lead to a domino effect that will ripple across the state.
Due to the Voting Rights Act, only congressional districts 13 and 14 are guaranteed not to be affected by this ruling. For example, while congressional districts, 2, 3, and 6 aren’t targeted, it’s impossible to redraw districts 1, 4, and 7 without minimally altering those as well. While Michigan’s congressional districts will see significant adjustments, those pale in comparison to the state House and Senate.
In the House, changes are largely contained to certain geographic areas, which will likely only alter the current partisan dynamics slightly, but most significantly, will create primaries amongst incumbents of the same party. For example, in Genesee County, some combination of Democratic Representatives Neely, Kennedy, Cherry, and Sneller would likely face off against one another with newly drawn districts. That would also likely be the case in Grand Rapids where Reps. LaGrand and Hood could be forced against each other for a newly drawn Grand Rapids district.
The State Senate is another matter entirely. First, there is the matter of term limits. The Michigan Constitution prohibits state senators from being elected more than twice, but does not specify the length of those terms. That means without relief from the courts, state senators could be facing a special election in 2020. Senators first elected in 2018 would then be in the position of serving two consecutive two-year terms, factoring in district redraws in both the 2020 and 2022 cycles. Senators who won re-election in 2018 face the possibility that their last term could be cut in half as well if they are ruled ineligible to run in the 2020 special senate election.
With the exception of Wayne County, SW Michigan, and the southern lower peninsula, the remaining state senate districts will see significant changes. Senate District 36 is particularly interesting because Midland and Bay Counties are almost certainly going to be required to be part of a new senate district moving forward, which will have sweeping ramifications for every district in the north and across the entire thumb. Both Oakland and Macomb Counties will also see significant changes, but those will mostly only affect the district lines within those counties.
The Way Forward
The legislature has an opportunity to draw new maps in the meantime, but the likelihood they will come up with an alternative within this short timeframe that the Governor would accept is far from realistic. That places the onus of drawing new districts on a court-appointed special master, which isn’t a great alternative. However, the legislative challenge of asking the Supreme Court to weigh in is no less troublesome. There are several other pending cases that are similar in nature before the Court that may be combined with the Michigan ruling despite having a different focus.
With less than a year from the 2020 filing deadline, time is of the essence. The longer this process drags out, the more difficult the circumstances become for all parties involved.