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Michigan maps hang in the balance as redistricting trial ends

Members of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission hear feedback from the public during a public hearing at the Lansing Center on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021
Sarah Lehr
Members of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission hear feedback from the public during a public hearing at the Lansing Center on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021

Both sides of a lawsuit over Michigan’s legislative district maps projected confidence Monday as attorneys prepared their post-trial briefs.

The suit alleges state House and Senate maps drawn by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.

John Bursch is the attorney for the plaintiffs. He said the Voting Rights Act doesn’t allow for the consideration of race in the redistricting process. That’s unless it’s used to protect Black voters’ interests.

“The evidence showed that the commissioners relied predominantly on race in drawing the House and Senate maps. But, that in doing so, they deprived the Black voters of the ability to elect the candidates of their choice,” Bursch said.

The commission denies wrongdoing, saying it stuck to criteria mandated by the state Constitution when crafting the maps.

That includes population, geographic continuity, diversity and communities of interest, political neutrality, neutrality when it comes to elected officials, a consideration of municipal boundaries and compactness.

During a press conference Monday, redistricting commission executive director Edward Woods III said its incorrect to compare the current process from standards used in past years.

“Because there were two distinct criterias that were being used,” Woods said.

Both sides presented their arguments in federal court in Kalamazoo earlier this month.

The trial focused significantly on the question of how race factored into the commission’s work.

In an interview Monday, Bursch said he felt the most impactful moments came during various commission members’ and consultants’ testimony about how the group handled race while map drawing.

After one of the court days, MIRS News quoted Bursch as accusing redistricting Commissioner Anthony Eid and voting rights expert Bruce Adelson of lying. On Monday, Bursch told the Michigan Public Radio Network they provided testimony that contradicted meeting transcripts.

Those comments drove the commission and its counsel to seek an apology Monday.

Commission attorney Nate Fink said the court had asked for civility ahead of those comments.

“Literally within minutes of that statement from the court, plaintiffs’ counsel stepped outside the courtroom and held a press conference and falsely accused commission witnesses of lying under oath,” Fink said.

But Bursch said there’s nothing to apologize for.

“If there’s any apology owed, it’s an apology owed to the Black voters in Detroit who were told that this is going to be a fair process.”

What’s next is up to the court to decide.

Lawyers for both sides have until Dec. 4 to submit post-trial briefs explaining their arguments and view of case facts.

If the commission loses, Michigan could see a re-write of its House and Senate district maps that helped deliver Democrats a majority in Lansing.

Woods said regardless of what happens, the commission will follow the constitution.

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