The Gongwer Blog

by Ben Solis, Staff Writer

VRA-OK Maps Could Mean Significant Changes For Detroit House Reps

Posted: February 8, 2024 8:22 AM

Three new map plans for the city of Detroit's House Districts drawn late last week by the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission could pit two representatives against each other in the Hamtramck area, would rearrange district territory around Birmingham and Royal Oak and significantly carve up the 13th District, currently the focus of a special election.

Members of the commission were ordered by a federal three-judge panel late last year to redraw House Districts 1, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12 and 14 in and around Detroit. The districts were challenged in the Agee v. Benson lawsuit. The panel found the seven districts violated the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause because the commission drew the districts with racial targets in an attempt to comply with the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

Those racial targets led the court to strike down the districts and ordered a redraw, which began in early January.

The commission over the past several weeks drew six maps without race as a consideration, but those maps, except for one configuration, did not comply with the VRA. Members worked to tweak the maps that were closest to meeting muster and produced three maps on Thursday that were VRA compliant.

Each of the nine maps are available to view on the commission's mapping and public comment portal. They were each completed before the panel's Friday deadline, and the maps will now move to a public comment phase until the end of the month.

Although the commission moved nine maps to give the residents of Detroit to choose from, compliance with the VRA is the second-ranked criteria in the Michigan Constitution for redistricting. None of the VRA-lacking maps would meet the court's muster even if they remedy the Equal Protection claims, so additional work will be needed on those maps if they were to advance to the proposal stage.

Maps in the running that are VRA-compliant include the Willow, Motown Sound and Riverwalk plans. Motown Sound is a derivative of the Spirit of Detroit map that moved on Wednesday, Riverwalk is a derivative of the initial Motown Sound map, and Willow is a modified version of the Water Lily map.

Each of those maps could be troublesome for a few representatives and no sweat for others, according to a Gongwer News Service analysis of the three maps.

For Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit) the Willow, Motown Sound and Riverwalk maps would all keep him in the same district without major changes. The same was true of Rep. Tullio Liberati (D-Allen Park).

Rep. Alabas Farhat (D-Dearborn) would also maintain much of the same territory with little change to his district boundaries. All three plans would see him trade much of the Detroit portion of his district to pick up northeast Dearborn. Farhat would also lose Melvindale under all three plans.

The Riverwalk plan would have Farhat lose the Gardenview Estates area of Detroit, while keeping much of the same territory as the Willow, which also cuts off Melvindale. Motown Sound is almost identical to Riverwalk in the shape of Farhat's new district except that it doesn't include a portion of Detroit south of Warren Avenue.

Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit) would also be saved a total district overhaul, and she would be able to represent much of the same territory even as her district would contract upward across each of the three VRA-complaint plans.

Rep. Natalie Price (D-Berkley) would see changes across the Willow, Motown Sound and Riverwalk maps, but the configurations are almost identical, all major. Each of the plans draw her out of the current Hickory 5th District, which has a narrow north to south shape stretching from Birmingham into Detroit. All variations would have her run in the new 6th District unless she were to move to Oak Park.

The Willow map splits the current 5th and 6th districts horizontally rather than vertically in long spindly districts, with Price taking the upper half of Royal Oak, Berkley and most of Birmingham as a new 6th District, and Rep. Regina Weiss (D-Oak Park) taking her hometown and a large swath of Detroit to the south of 8 Mile Road in a new 5th District.

The Willow, Motown Sound and Riverwalk plans each keep them in separate districts, preventing a potential incumbent vs. incumbent Democratic primary.

Rep. Helena Scott (D-Detroit) would be drawn out of her district would represent much of the same territory, losing Royal Oak, keeping the whole of Ferndale and gaining more of Detroit to the south in both the Riverwalk and the Motown Sound plans. All three variations put her in a new 8th District.

The Willow plan could create a wrinkle for Scott as it draws her into Highland Park and Hamtramck and into the current and potential future territory of Rep. Abraham Aiyash.

Under Willow, the current 8th District would move away from turf represented by Rep. Mike McFall (D-Hazel Park) and shift downward, grabbing up Highland Park, Hamtramck, meaning McFall would have to run in the new 7th District under the Willow plan. That's territory currently represented by Scott.

Riverwalk would shift the 8th District westward and would no longer include Hazel Park. Under this plan, McFall would have to run in the new 14th District, which would include his hometown and most of Madison Heights, but also a huge chunk of Warren and the whole of Center Line.

The Motown Sound map mirrors the Riverwalk configuration for McFall.

Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) would be boxed out of a 9th District on the Willow map as it shifts downward taking up large portions of Detroit, essentially becoming much of the district currently represented by House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit). Aiyash's Hamtramck territory would become part of a new 8th District under the Willow plan, setting up a clash with Scott unless she moved, or vice versa.

Riverwalk would keep Aiyash in similar territory, losing a bit of his Detroit ground and keeping him away from Scott as a challenger. The same is true for the Motown Sound map.

Each of the VRA-complaint plans has Tate taking up a 9th District which would keep all of his Detroit territory but would lose all of his current Grosse Pointes ground.

The new 10th District would be an open seat under the Willow plan but could end up becoming a new seat for Rep. Veronica Paiz (D-Harper Woods) under the Riverwalk and Motown Sound plans.

Paiz would see the 11th District on the Willow map shift far to the west, putting her in a new 12th District take up half of lower Eastpointe, Harper Woods, and some of Detroit west of Grosse Pointe Woods. The northern half of Eastpointe where Edwards lives would become a new 13th District combined with Roseville and partis of Warren, potentially pitting her against whomever wins the upcoming special election in the 13th.

Paiz, however, would be drawn into the Grosse Pointes-centric new 10th District under the Riverwalk plan, which would include her Harper Woods and St. Clair Shores.

Motown Sound would also draw her into the Riverwalk configuration sans St. Clair Shores.

The Riverwalk and Motown Sound maps would keep Paiz and Edwards in separate districts, with the former keeping all of Eastpointe intact, including Detroit to the south and lacking any of Warren or Roseville; the latter would keep Edwards in Eastpointe, include some of Detroit, losing Warren but would a wide swath of southern St. Clair Shores

The current 13th District would see the most changes across the board and could complicate things for whomever wins the upcoming special election. Democrat Mai Xiong is a shoo-in for the seat, but that seat could look a lot different after she takes office.

The current Hickory 13th District would largely become a new 11th District under the Willow plan with its center at 9 Mile Road and Schoenherr Road, losing some of its Warren territory, picking up Center Line, while grabbing more of Detroit to the south and near Hamtramck. The new 13th District would include eastern Warren and Roseville, but not Eastpointe.

The current territory for the 13th District would be carved up significantly (and in almost exactly the same way) under the Motown Sound and Riverwalk plans. The district would siphoned off into a new 7th District (Highland Park, Hamtramck and Detroit), an 11th District (Detroit and Warren), a 13th District (Warren, Roseville, St. Clair Shores) and a new 14th District (Madison Heights, Hazel Park, parts of Warren and Centerline).

Rep. Donavan McKinney (D-Detroit) would represent much of the same territory but his district would contain less of Detroit to the south in the Willow plan. He would gain more ground to the east just south of Hazel Park, would lose some of Warren and Center Line to the east and would gain Madison Heights to the northwest.

The Riverwalk plan would see McKinney pick up pieces of Detroit to the south of Hazel Park, lose very little territory to the south like the Willow plan, maintain some of his Warren district to the north and would pick up more Detroit and a good chunk of southeastern Warren, as well.

The Motown Sound map offers McKinney the same outcome as the Riverwalk plan.

SCOTUS Dockets Redistricting Case, Fed Court Appoints Special Master

Posted: January 11, 2024 8:26 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court has docketed the ongoing appeal to a federal court's ruling that the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission created unconstitutional maps for the state House and Senate.

An application to stay the effects of a federal three-judge panel's ruling in Agee v. Benson was filed by the commission last week. The commission hopes the federal high court will hear the case and potentially overturn the holding. The case was docketed Thursday, taken up by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who oversees the 6th Circuit.

ICRC Commissioner Steve Lett announced movement in the case during the body's special meeting Thursday to determine how it would build remedy maps by February 2. Lett is the commission's legal liaison with its attorneys at Baker Hostetler.

Lett told commissioners that Kavanaugh has requested a response from the plaintiffs by January 17, fast tracking the case.

Attorney Richard Raile with Baker Hostetler asked the court to issue the stay while it prepares a direct appeal to the ruling. Raile also hoped the high court would promptly request oral arguments.

With the state's candidate filing deadline on April 23, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has asked the courts to act promptly to have remedy maps ready soon. The injunction placed on the defendants, both Benson and the commission, prevents the state from holding elections in the House and Senate districts in and around Detroit.

The three-judge panel of U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney of the Western District of Michigan and 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Raymond Kethledge and Janet Neff held the commission used race as a predominant factor when building Detroit's districts, a violation of residents' Equal Protection rights.

Meanwhile, the panel on Thursday issued an order to appoint a special master to draw remedy maps in case the commission fails to complete the task of creating a new House map – and one that meets muster – by February 2.

Michael Barber, an associate professor at Brigham Young University, was appointed as the mapping special master. Barber has until January 16 to notify the court if he can't participate or if there were any grounds for his disqualification. The court will have him build a House map while the commission attempts to do the same.

Bernard Grofman, a professor at University of California-Irvine, was appointed as a second special master to review the commission's completed House map.

The panel also issued a ruling in the same order regarding Baker Hostetler's new role as the commission's Voting Rights Act counsel after consultant Bruce Adelson terminated his contract with the commission in late December 2023.

There were concerns from the plaintiffs that attorney Mark Braden would offer advice to the commission but could later become a fact witness in any potential future litigation should the new maps pose different legal problems. Jennifer Green of Clark Hill, the plaintiffs' attorney, thought it would be a conflict if Braden is cross examined by a member of his own firm.

The panel said the plaintiffs' concerns were "well-founded, but not insuperable."

"As a rule, attorneys indeed should not testify as witnesses in cases in which they serve as advocates," the panel wrote. "That said, Braden is a well-respected attorney with long experience with the law relevant to the commission's upcoming work here. We will therefore permit his appointment as VRA counsel, notwithstanding the plaintiffs' objection, if Braden promptly discontinues his role as litigation counsel in this case, and Baker Hostetler implements an appropriate mechanism to prevent Braden and his colleagues at Baker Hostetler, going forward, from sharing any information regarding their respective work regarding this case."

– By Ben Solis

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