Michigan Redistricting Challenge To Detroit House Seats Finds Ear At Justice Department

DETROIT -- The U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing Michigan's new electoral maps, perhaps thanks in part to a legal challenge filed by a coalition of Detroit groups.

The Detroit branch of the NAACP, the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, Latino Americans for Social and Economic Development (LASED) and the United Auto Workers earlier this month brought suit challenging the new district maps crafted by state Republicans and signed off on by Gov. Rick Snyder in August.

The coalition charges Snyder and Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson with approving a discriminatory redistricting process. The challengers contend that the new state House districts were designed by Republican lawmakers to pit minority candidates in Detroit against each other and that the district map could drive out of office 35 percent of non-white incumbents across the state.

"In an assault on the voting rights of the African-American and Latino electorate, Michigan's redistricting maps willfully dilute the vote of the state's voters of color, just as our percentage of the population has increased," said the Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP, in a statement. "The Justice Department's involvement is appropriate. They are the country's guardian agency for protecting the vote and there is a national effort underway to suppress the vote of the African-American electorate."

The coalition's Dec. 8 complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court based in Detroit, rests largely on the newly drawn state House districts for Detroit and some of its suburbs. LASED counsel Lawrence Garcia noted that the new 5th and 6th districts split southwest Detroit's Latino community in half.

"Michigan's Latino community is the state's fastest growing population, and is poised to exercise its voice in the political process," Garcia said in a statement. "We look forward to working with the Justice Department to reverse Michigan's unfair redistricting plan."

To compare the new redistricting map with the current districts, move the slider from right to left.

Coalition members said they met Wednesday with Justice Department lawyers -- naming Robert Popper, deputy chief of the Voting Rights Section, and department lawyer Victor Williamson -- and that the department will open an inquiry into Michigan's redistricting process.

Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa told HuffPost that the department's review of Michigan's redistricting "is taking place in the context of the judicial preclearance case under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act."

The "judicial preclearance case" involves an earlier redistricting lawsuit, filed in November by the state of Michigan with the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

Michigan, along with 16 other states, must have its redistricting plans approved by the Justice Department because of the state's history of discrimination in elections. The state is looking to bypass that preclearance process by having a court declare that its redistricting plan can be implemented immediately. Texas, Alabama and Georgia are also attempting to circumvent their "covered" status, in part by challenging that provision of the Voting Rights Act.

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel told MLive earlier this month that the new maps met all federal standards. "The governor certainly wouldn't have signed them if he thought otherwise," she said.

A clamor has also been raised over the Detroit metro area's congressional redistricting, which will pit incumbent Democratic Reps. Gary Peters and Hansen Clarke against each other in the new 14th District. Roll Call recently named the winding district one of the "Top Five Ugliest Districts" in the nation.

Infographics by Jake Bialer, with demographic and district border data from Data Driven Detroit and the state of Michigan.