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US Supreme Court dismisses Michigan redistricting challenge to Congress map

Nov. 7, 2022 Updated Mon., Nov. 7, 2022 at 8:44 p.m.

The U.S. Supreme Court building as seen on Sunday, July 11, 2021 in Washington, D.C.  (Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
The U.S. Supreme Court building as seen on Sunday, July 11, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
By Melissa Nann Burke The Detroit News

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday dismissed the appeal of Michigan Republicans who had challenged the state’s new congressional map as drawn by the redistricting commission last year.

The Republicans had argued that the congressional map unjustifiably deviated from constitutional requirements for apportionment by failing to have more equal population among the 13 districts, pointing to a roughly 1,200-person difference between the largest and smallest districts by population.

They had sought to enjoin the state from using the congressional map in any election in Michigan; however, a three-judge district court in April denied their request for a preliminary injunction, finding the plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claim and calling the state’s justification for the “small” population deviation “undisputedly legitimate.”

The justices on their Monday order list dismissed the appeal as “moot,” without further explanation, meaning the case no longer presented an open legal question. The new congressional boundaries will be used in Tuesday’s general election.

At issue in the case was what’s known as the “one person, one vote” rule, which refers to the requirement to achieve equal representation in congressional districts “as nearly as practicable.” The Supreme Court has held that this rule doesn’t necessitate exact mathematical equality in population, allowing for deviations when, for example, they’re small and the state can justify them with legitimate interests reflected consistently in its redistricting plan.

In Michigan’s case, the redistricting commission’s chosen “Chestnut Plan” deviated from perfect equality in population in what it said was necessary to draw political boundaries that preserved so-called communities of interest, which usually share cultural, economic or historical interests. “Communities of interest” was among the criteria that the commission had to consider in drawing new lines, as directed by the state constitution.

The three-judge panel made up of a 6th Circuit judge, Raymond Kethledge, and two federal district judges, concluded last spring that the state was likely to succeed on the merits in the case, noting the commission had identified communities of interest it sought to keep together in each district, bolstered by public comments about each of those communities.

But the Republican voters in Michigan who sued the state argued the order shouldn’t stand because the Chestnut map unconstitutionally “dilutes” the votes of two-thirds of the state’s 10 million residents.

Attorneys for the Republican plaintiffs said in court filings that the three-judge court erred in deferring to the commission’s discretion because of how it arbitrarily defined and identified communities of interest and applied that definition differently across the state to create the new map.

Republicans also argued if the Supreme Court allows larger population deviations where communities of interest are at issue, that opens the door to significant population deviations in congressional redistricting going forward, because more than 20 states now employ a “community of interest” criteria.

Lawyers for the commission, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and intervenors Voters Not Politicians argued in court filings that the issue was moot because the plaintiffs had sought to enjoin the 2022 election, but that election has already begun using the Chestnut map. Thus, the Michigan Republicans were not entitled to a preliminary injunction, and they urged the justices to dismiss the appeal.

Lawyers for the GOP plaintiffs, in response, acknowledged the 2022 election is underway, but claimed the elections in 2024 and beyond would cause the same injury of diluted votes under the allegedly illegal map if the court didn’t side with them.

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