Republicans, black activists are against Michigan’s new legislative districts, but for vastly different reasons

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Michigan State Capitol.  - SHUTTERLOCK

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  • Michigan State Capitol.

Republicans and civil rights activists have found themselves on the same side of an argument: They both say Michigan’s newly drawn-up legislative districts are unfair and will deprive voters of their right to vote.

The two-part Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission passed new cards to Congress, the state Senate and the state House on Tuesday, drawing condemnation from some and praise from many Democrats, national political leaders and even California’s former Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The newly drawn-up districts are designed to end decades of gerrymandering that gave Republicans a political advantage. Under the new cards, Democrats have a chance to turn the legislature around for the first time in decades.

But civil rights activists and some elected leaders are threatening a lawsuit to stop the cards from being implemented, claiming the commission eradicated virtually all predominantly black districts and violated the suffrage law.

“The Michigan Redistricting Panel needs to realize that their actions cannot continue the denial of African Americans and other communities throughout Michigan,” said Wayne County Commissioner Jonathan Kinloch, chairman of the 13th Democratic Congressional District Democratic Party, in a declaration. “Michigan needs and deserves a diverse congressional and state legislative delegation that represents all the people of Michigan – it’s the only way to ensure that every voice is heard. These current congressional cards are a serious setback that limits the voice of African Americans, and “It’s unacceptable. On behalf of all the people of Michigan, we are in discussions about retaining attorney Todd Perkins, and we are ready to sue if necessary to change these cards and make them fairer to all.”

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights also criticized the cards, saying they “dilute the voting power of minorities.”

“It is deeply worrying that a public body in 2021, despite overwhelming input from experts, academics and the citizens who will be directly affected by their decisions, approved cards that do not meet this vital legal and ethical test,” John E. Johnson, Jr., executive director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, said. “The Commission will review this result and consider what next steps it will take.”

Republicans are also against the cards, but for vastly different reasons. They are sad that they lost control of drawing their own districts, which has enabled them to have majorities in the state House and Senate.

“We consider every opportunity to take the necessary steps to defend the voices that this commission has silenced,” Gustavo Portela, spokesman for the Michigan GOP, said in a statement.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, the state’s top election official, praised the commission’s card, saying the commission carried out “the most open, independent and citizen-led redistribution process in Michigan’s history.”

“Our democracy is stronger thanks to the commitment, leadership and vision of Michigan citizens for a fair, inclusive and transparent process that puts voters above politics and ends gerrymandering in Michigan once and for all,” Benson said.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., who chairs the National Democratic Redistribution Committee, said he supports the new cards.

“No one gets everything they want and everyone has to compromise,” Holder said. “But it is such a commission that is supposed to work, and it is in turn a reflection of how American democracy should work.”

The Michigan Democratic Party also showed its support.

“Under these new congressional and state legislative districts, the Michigan Democratic Party is renewing its commitment to fight for equality, equitable representation and justice while celebrating Michigan’s diverse population,” said Lavora Barnes, chairwoman of the MDP.

Schwarzenegger, a critic of gerrymandering, welcomed the new cards on Twitter on Wednesday. “Congratulations to the Michigan Independent Redistricting Commissioners,” Schwarzenegger said. “Yesterday, a bipartisan vote created fair districts for state voters. You proved that when the people, not the politicians, draw the line, the voters win.”

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