A federal court in Michigan on Thursday became the latest in the country to strike down its state's district maps, ruling that they were examples of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.
The lawsuit, filed late last year by the League of Women Voters on behalf of eleven Democratic voters, alleged that the legislative and congressional maps in question violated their constitutional rights.
On Thursday, a panel of three judges in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan agreed with the plaintiffs, finding the district maps violated voters’ First Amendment rights and the constitution’s Equal Protection clause.
"Today, this Court joins the growing chorus of federal courts that have, in recent years, held that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional," the court said in its ruling. "We find that the Enacted Plan violates the Plaintiffs' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights because it deliberately dilutes the power of their vote by placing them in districts that were intentionally drawn to ensure a particular partisan outcome in each district."
The court cited evidence that showed Republicans loaded some districts with Democratic voters, and divided Democratic communities between other Republican-held seats, practices known as packing and cracking.
The judges' order that the districts be redrawn before the 2020 election will almost certainly be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court is considering two other partisan gerrymandering cases, out of North Carolina and Maryland, and may issue a stay on the Michigan decision until those cases are resolved.
Michigan’s current district lines were drawn in 2011 by the Republican-controlled state legislature, with the help of Republican operatives.
The League of Women Voters pointed to election results that show Republicans hold a disproportionate number of legislative and congressional seats in Michigan, even though they won only about half the number of total votes cast.
Republicans hold seven of 14 congressional seats in Michigan, after Democrats won back two Republican-held seats last November. Republicans hold 22 of 38 seats in the state Senate, and 58 of 110 seats in the state House.
The judges accepted the League’s argument.
"The evidence points to only one conclusion: partisan considerations played a central role in every aspect of the redistricting process," the decision states.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in the North Carolina and Michigan cases will likely set a new precedent for the extent to which parties can move to draw favorable district lines. The justices have struggled in the past to create such a standard, noting that the process of drawing the districts is inherently political.
The high court will hand down its ruling by the end of its current term in June.
Two of the three judges on the panel were appointed by President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFederal judge changes his mind about stepping down, eliminating vacancy for Biden to fill Joe Biden's gamble with history Can America prevent a global warming cold war? MORE. The third, Judge Gordon Jay Quist, was appointed by President George H.W. Bush.
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