The party of white, male landowners
by Tom Sullivan
In a unanimous ruling Thursday, a three-judge federal court struck down nearly thirty of Michigan's voting districts as partisan gerrymanders "of historical proportions." The ruling affects nine of the state’s 14 congressional districts as well as state House and Senate districts. The court ordered special corrective elections next year for some state seats and new congressional districts for the 2020 elections. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey announced within hours the Senate would appeal the League of Women Voters v. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The Enacted Plan was devised with discriminatory intent," the court wrote in its ruling. "[T]he predominant purpose of the Enacted Plan is to subordinate the interests Democrats and entrench Republicans in power by diluting the weight of Democratic voters’ votes."
The ruling comes as the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates twin partisan gerrymandering cases it heard in March from Maryland and North Carolina. Language from the Eastern District of Michigan court declaring Michigan's Republican gerrymander "of historical proportions" now joins the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals phrasing condemning North Carolina's law that targeted black voters "with almost surgical precision."
The glee Michigan's GOP lawmakers displayed in designing maps to their advantage echoes the "try and stop us" frankness with which North Carolina Republicans drew theirs. “I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with eleven Republicans and two Democrats,” state Rep. David Lewis stated publicly. Lewis led North Carolina Republicans' redistricting efforts after the 2010 census.
Talking Points Memo reports on the Michigan ruling:
The case featured evidence — including emails between the GOP staffers in charge of drawing the maps – that was notable for how explicitly the partisan intent was spelled out. In one email, a staffer bragged that a map was “a glorious way that makes it easier to cram ALL of the Dem garbage in Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland, and Macomb counties into only four districts.”The court ordered the legislature and the governor to enact new maps by August 1. Should they fail, "the Court will draw remedial maps itself," a move mirroring the court order in North Carolina.
Another staffer cheered that a map that the Michigan Republicans were drawing was “perfect” because “it’s giving the finger to [S]andy [L]evin,” referring to a Democratic U.S. House member in the state.
A targeted undercount would shift political representation and critical federal support away from areas with large populations of people of color, immigrants and Latinos.Democrats in New Hampshire's the state legislature are attempting to repeal a Republican election law passed to make it harder for resident college students to vote. Democrats and other plaintiffs hope a lawsuit will block another new law impacting voter registration procedures.
Republicans will also likely attempt to use citizenship data to further shift power to their political base within the states. In 2016, the Supreme Court’s decision in Evenwel v. Abbott left unanswered whether states could draw congressional and state legislative districts based solely on the number of citizens, not total population, as it is currently done. Lawmakers and officials in Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas have already indicated they might use citizenship data this way.
The Republican-dominated Legislature has tried to hang Amendment 4 by its own advocate’s words. When the campaign went before the state supreme court to qualify for the ballot, it explained to the seven justices that “completion of sentence” meant that the payment of fines and fees were also required to vote. The campaign has since called that concession a mistake. Regardless, the amendment’s general language offers a cautionary tale about how the many metastasizing consequences of the carceral state can complicate well-intentioned efforts at reform.But that will have to get by a Republican legislature and a Republican governor. What this effort amounts to, says Morse, is the criminalization of poverty.
Although a fragmented criminal justice system has made data collection difficult, my previous research using court records in Alabama found that the typical ex-felon faced a staggering bill of about $4,000 in fines and fees. Perhaps recognizing the potential impact, the ACLU of Florida, which helped draft Amendment 4, has tried to offer a saving construction to the legislature. They have suggested that “fees not specifically identified as part of a sentence . . . are therefore not necessary for ‘completion of sentence’ and thus, do not need to be paid before an individual may register.”