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Current and former Detroit lawmakers challenge new district maps

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Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission
The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission adopted this new state House map in December.

A group of current and former Detroit-area legislators said they were filing a lawsuit to force the Michigan's redistricting commission to start over. The Democratic lawmakers said new maps adopted by the commission would force too many Detroit incumbents to run against each other in primaries.

Democratic Rep. Tenisha Yancey said the districts would reduce minority representation in Lansing and Washington.

“We can have partisan fairness and still have majority black districts,” said Yancey. “We’ve seen maps that accomplish both, and we want them to go back to — either go back to the drawing board or go back to some of the maps that we know accomplish both.”

The lawsuit will claim the maps adopted by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission violate the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of African-American voting blocs in metro-Detroit.

“The voter rights act took into consideration that black votes were being diluted, and this will allow for that dilution to continue to happen,” said Yancy, whose district is anchored in Detroit, but also includes Harper Woods, Grosse Pointe Woods and Grosse Pointe Farms. She is term-limited and cannot run again for the House.

Yancey and other metro Detroit Democrats said voters were promised that the redistricting amendment adopted in the 2018 election would not violate the federal voting rights law. They said the commission should either re-draw the maps or adopt other versions that were presented but rejected.

A spokesperson for the redistricting commission said it followed the legal advice of its attorney, as well as other experts in election law and voting rights.

"At this point, that’s what this commission has followed and will continue to follow unless directed otherwise,” said Edward Woods III. “We haven’t seen anything from the (U.S.) Department of Justice, which has enforcement responsibility for the Voting Rights Act. We’ve just heard people’s perspectives and opinions and stories.”

Under the voter-approved amendment that created the commission, the case will go directly to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.