Detroit Caucus v. Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, SC: 163926

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Citation969 N.W.2d 331 (Mem)
Docket NumberSC: 163926
Parties DETROIT CAUCUS, Romulus City Council, Inkster City Council, Tenisha Yancy, Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, Tyrone Carter, Betty Jean Alexander, Hon. Stephen Chisholm, Teola P. Hunter, Hon. Keith Williams, Dr. Carol Weaver, Wendell Byrd, Shanelle Jackson, Lamar Lemmons, Irma Clark Coleman, Lavonia Perryman, Alisha Bell, Natalie Bienaime, Oliver Cole, Andrea Thompson, Darryl Woods, Norma D. McDaniel, Melissa D. McDaniel, Chitara Warren, James Richardson, and Elena Herrada, Plaintiffs, v. INDEPENDENT CITIZENS REDISTRICTING COMMISSION, Defendant.
Decision Date03 February 2022

969 N.W.2d 331 (Mem)

DETROIT CAUCUS, Romulus City Council, Inkster City Council, Tenisha Yancy, Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, Tyrone Carter, Betty Jean Alexander, Hon. Stephen Chisholm, Teola P. Hunter, Hon. Keith Williams, Dr. Carol Weaver, Wendell Byrd, Shanelle Jackson, Lamar Lemmons, Irma Clark Coleman, Lavonia Perryman, Alisha Bell, Natalie Bienaime, Oliver Cole, Andrea Thompson, Darryl Woods, Norma D. McDaniel, Melissa D. McDaniel, Chitara Warren, James Richardson, and Elena Herrada, Plaintiffs,
v.
INDEPENDENT CITIZENS REDISTRICTING COMMISSION, Defendant.

SC: 163926

Supreme Court of Michigan.

February 3, 2022


Order

On order of the Court, the first amended verified complaint is considered, and the relief requested is DENIED.

Plaintiffs challenge the plans adopted by the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (the Commission) on December 28, 2021 for Michigan's congressional and legislative districts. This Court has authority to "review a challenge to any plan adopted by the commission ...." Const. 1963, art. 4, § 6 (19). Plaintiffs allege that the adopted plans do not "comply with the voting rights act and other federal laws" as required by Const. 1963, art. 4, § 6 (13)(a). More specifically, plaintiffs contend that the absence of an equivalent number of majority-minority districts in the adopted plans as compared to Michigan's existing congressional and state legislative districts will result in unlawful vote dilution in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), 52 USC 10301 et seq. In considering whether the adopted plans violate federal laws, we are bound by the decisions of the United States Supreme Court that construe those laws. Abela v. Gen. Motors Corp. , 469 Mich. 603, 606, 677 N.W.2d 325 (2004) ; Chesapeake & O. R. Co. v. Martin , 283 U.S. 209, 220-221, 51 S.Ct. 453, 75 L.Ed. 983 (1931). Those United States Supreme Court decisions must govern our decision.

Earlier this year, in anticipation of redistricting challenges invoking our original jurisdiction, this Court unanimously adopted amendments to our court rules governing original proceedings. MCR 7.306(J) provides that "[t]he Court may set the case for argument as on leave granted, grant or deny the relief requested, or provide other relief that it deems appropriate, including an order to show cause why the relief sought in the complaint should not be granted." After receiving briefing on the merits of plaintiffs’ challenge, we ordered expedited oral argument seeking the parties’ respective views on "the proper disposition of the plaintiffs’ complaint, including whether the plaintiffs have sustained their claims on the merits or whether there are disputed questions of fact."

969 N.W.2d 332

Detroit Caucus v. Independent Citizens Redistricting Comm. , ––– Mich. ––––, 969 N.W.2d 331 (2022). During oral argument, plaintiffs’ counsel repeatedly answered our question by stating that plaintiffs had no intention of further supplementing the record and that it was plaintiffs’ position that the reduction in majority-minority districts was "clear evidence in and of itself," that "the numbers speak for themselves," and that "[t]he results speak for themselves." Counsel also asserted that plaintiffs were satisfied that they "have enough that's been substantiated and submitted" and that "the evidence is clear as day to us and with what we submitted thus far." Plaintiffs’ counsel expressly conceded that the case was "ready" for adjudication and that there was no need for a court-appointed expert.1 The Commission's counsel agreed that this Court should proceed to address the merits of plaintiffs’ challenge as presented.

"Redistricting is never easy," and there are "competing hazards of liability" for a body tasked with producing a lawful redistricting plan. Abbott v. Perez , 585 U.S. ––––, ––––, 138 S.Ct. 2305, 2314-2315, 201 L.Ed.2d 714 (2018) (quotation marks and citation omitted). The Commission must abide by a host of different—and sometimes competing—redistricting criteria. See id. at ––––, 138 S.Ct. at 2314 ; see also Const. 1963, art. 4, § 6 (13)(a) through (g) (ranking priority of state redistricting criteria). As particularly relevant to plaintiffs’ challenge, "federal law impose[s] complex and delicately balanced requirements regarding the consideration of race." Abbott , 585 U.S. at ––––, 138 S.Ct. at 2314. It is settled beyond dispute that the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution "forbids ‘racial gerrymandering,’ that is, intentionally assigning citizens to a district on the basis of race without sufficient justification." Id. Yet, "[a]t the same time that the Equal Protection Clause restricts the consideration of race in the districting process, compliance with the [VRA] pulls in the opposite direction" and "often insists that districts be created precisely because of race." Id.

Plaintiffs, supported by a conclusory expert affidavit with no accompanying bloc-voting analysis, argue that the mere absence of an equivalent number of race-based, majority-minority districts in the adopted plans as compared to Michigan's existing congressional and state legislative districts violates the VRA. But that is not the measure of vote dilution under the VRA. Vote dilution exists when "members of a minority group have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice." Johnson v. De Grandy , 512 U.S. 997, 1000, 114 S.Ct. 2647, 129 L.Ed.2d 775 (1994) (quotation marks and citation omitted). For more than 35 years, vote-dilution

969 N.W.2d 333

claims have been governed by the standard first announced in Thornburg v. Gingles , 478 U.S. 30, 106 S.Ct. 2752, 92 L.Ed.2d 25 (1986). As explained by the United States Supreme Court in Cooper v. Harris , 581 U.S. ––––, ––––, 137 S.Ct. 1455, 1470, 197 L.Ed.2d 837 (2017) (some alterations added):

[T]his Court identified, in [ Gingles ], three threshold conditions for proving vote dilution under § 2 of the VRA. See [ Gingles , 478 U.S. at 50-51, 106 S.Ct. 2752 ]. First, a "minority group" must be "sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority" in some reasonably configured legislative district. Id. , at 50 [106 S.Ct. 2752]. Second, the minority group must be "politically cohesive." Id. , at 51 [106 S.Ct. 2752]. And third, a district's white majority must "vote[ ] sufficiently as a bloc" to usually "defeat the minority's preferred candidate." Ibid. Those three showings, we have explained, are needed to establish that "the minority [group] has the potential to elect a representative of its own choice" in a possible district, but that racially polarized voting prevents it from doing so in the district as actually drawn because it is "submerg[ed] in a larger white voting population." Growe v. Emison , 507 U.S. 25, 40 [113 S.Ct. 1075, 122 L.Ed.2d 388] (1993).

The Cooper Court then went on to clarify the exact circumstances that might provide sufficient justification to intentionally assign citizens to a district on the basis of race: "If a State has good reason to think that all the ‘ Gingles preconditions’ are met, then so too it has good reason to believe that § 2 requires drawing a majority-minority district. But if not, then not. " Cooper , 581 U.S. at ––––, 137 S.Ct. at 1470 (emphasis added; citation omitted); see also Bush v. Vera , 517 U.S. 952, 977-978, 116 S.Ct. 1941, 135 L.Ed.2d 248 (1996) (opinion of O'Connor, J.) (assuming, without deciding, that VRA compliance is a compelling state interest capable of satisfying strict scrutiny to avoid an equal-protection violation but requiring that the redistricting body have "a strong basis in evidence for concluding that creation of a majority-minority district is reasonably necessary to comply with § 2") (quotation marks and citation omitted).

In other words, the Commission needed good reason to think that the Gingles preconditions were satisfied to believe that § 2 of the VRA required majority-minority districts. Under Cooper , 581 U.S. at ––––, 137 S.Ct. at 1464, the Commission could only "invoke[ ] the VRA to justify race-based districting" with " ‘a strong basis in evidence’ " establishing that race-based, majority-minority districts were necessary as a narrowly tailored means of ensuring an equal opportunity to elect candidates preferred by Black voters. (Citation omitted.) The Commission asserts that the evidentiary basis supporting a need for majority-minority districts was entirely lacking in the public record. In fact, the Commission's voting-analysis expert extensively analyzed voting patterns in general-election and primary-election contests over the prior redistricting cycle both statewide and specifically within Wayne, Oakland, Genesee, and Saginaw Counties. The resulting racial bloc-voting analysis (a breakdown in voting patterns based on race) suggested significant white crossover voting for Black-preferred candidates that had the effect of affording Black voters an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice even in the absence of 50%+ majority-minority districts. This evidence of white crossover voting—unrebutted by plaintiffs’ expert—reinforces our conclusion that plaintiffs have not made the threshold showing of white bloc voting required by Gingles .

969 N.W.2d 334

Plaintiffs have not identified grounds or legal authority that...

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1 practice notes
  • Johnson v. Wis. Elections Comm'n, 2021AP1450-OA
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • March 1, 2022
    ...is exactly the form of analysis that the Michigan Supreme Court recently applied. Detroit Caucus v. Indep. Citizens Redistricting Comm'n, 969 N.W.2d 331 (Mich. 2022). The court found that "a conclusory expert affidavit with no accompanying bloc-voting analysis" was insufficient to support t......
1 cases
  • Johnson v. Wis. Elections Comm'n, 2021AP1450-OA
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • March 1, 2022
    ...is exactly the form of analysis that the Michigan Supreme Court recently applied. Detroit Caucus v. Indep. Citizens Redistricting Comm'n, 969 N.W.2d 331 (Mich. 2022). The court found that "a conclusory expert affidavit with no accompanying bloc-voting analysis" was insufficient to support t......

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