Jan 3, 2024 - Politics

Detroit lawmakers want special master for new legislative maps

Animated illustration of Michigan with red and blue districts in it changing shape.

Animated illustration of Michigan with red and blue districts in it changing shape. Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Detroit lawmakers and Michigan's citizen redistricting panel are looking for a path forward after a three-judge panel ruled in December that more than a dozen state House and Senate districts must be redrawn.

Why it matters: The order could affect the presidential primary in February and special elections for the two Democrats who left the Legislature to become mayors, deadlocking the House at 54-54.

  • Plaintiffs in the case argue less Black representation in Lansing means less movement on hot-button issues like housing, criminal justice, policing and reparations.

Driving the news: Black lawmakers who have been at odds with the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission want the court to order special elections for affected Senate seats and appoint a special master to redraw the district lines, a possibility raised by the three-judge panel in a separate order.

Zoom in: The maps finalized in 2020 created solidly Democratic districts at the expense of Black majority districts, reducing the number from 17 to less than 10.

  • Some boundaries paired low-income neighborhoods with the wealthiest areas in the region, like District 5, stretching from Detroit's west side to Birmingham, or another from Brightmoor to Farmington.

What they're saying: Former state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo and the group of lawmakers argue splitting Detroit into 22 separate districts with only seven lawmakers living within city limits has disenfranchised Black voters.

  • "We can't as Democrats point fingers at the other party when we feel like they are playing unfair and then use opportunities like this to take advantage of a demographic that has been the bridge to many of the victories that the Democratic Party has had," Gay-Dagnogo, a plaintiff in the case, tells Axios. "Splintering us throughout Macomb, Oakland and Wayne — anyone with common sense knows that that is wrong."
  • "It's really damning what took place by this commission that was supposed to be an independent body, the lack of respect shown to Detroit … they were told to ignore the outcry from Detroit."

Between the lines: While Detroit lawmakers celebrated the decision last week, so did state Republicans who had made their own objections to the maps established by Michigan's first-ever Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission two years ago.

  • The three judges in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, were all appointed by former President George W. Bush.

What's next: Parties return to court Friday in Kalamazoo, where plaintiffs are hoping the court will agree to appoint a special master after several redistricting commissioners resigned last month.

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