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Law & the Courts

Supreme Court Throws Out Michigan Gerrymandering Ruling in Win for GOP

(Leah Millis/Reuters)

The Supreme Court granted the Michigan Republican party a win on Monday by throwing out a lower court ruling that required dozens of congressional and legislative districts to be redrawn due to concerns they had been gerrymandered by Republicans.

The high court’s 5-to-4 decision reverses a ruling by the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, which demanded the state redraw nine congressional districts and 25 state districts by August 1.

Monday’s decision also follows the Supreme Court’s ruling in June that it would leave gerrymandering cases to state courts.

“Partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the June decision, which dealt with district boundaries in Maryland and North Carolina.

That ruling divided the court along ideological lines with Roberts serving as the swing vote.

Roberts joined conservative Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch to strike down the lower court’s ruling, while liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagen, and Stephen Breyer voted to preserve the lower court’s finding that the districts must be redrawn.

The majority in the June case cited the lack of an adequate test to determine when “political gerrymandering has gone too far.”

The League of Women Voters of Michigan sued the Republican-controlled state legislature last year, accusing the party of rigging districts to keep the party in power, resulting in the overturned Sixth Circuit ruling, which said Republicans infringed on voters’ First and 14th Amendment rights “by diluting the weight of their votes.”

“The Enacted Plan gives Republicans a strong, systematic, and durable structural advantage in Michigan’s elections and decidedly discriminates against Democrats,” the nixed Sixth Circuit decision read. “This court joins the growing chorus of federal courts that have, in recent years, held that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional.”

Because of the Supreme Court’s Monday ruling in favor of the GOP, districts will not be redrawn until 2022, when a bipartisan redistricting commission resulting from a state referendum last fall will assume the task of redrawing the boundaries.

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