Supreme Court overturns ruling in Michigan partisan gerrymandering case: What it means

Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press
Supreme Court overturns ruling in Michigan partisan gerrymandering case: What it means

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday morning officially overturned a ruling which had called for nearly three dozen congressional and legislative districts in Michigan to be redrawn because they unfairly helped one political party.

The decision — which vacated an earlier ruling made by a three-judge panel by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati — had been widely expected since the Supreme Court decided in June that it would allow state courts to decide certain questions about political boundary lines rather than ruling on them itself. 

"Partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in that decision involving cases brought regarding political boundary lines drawn in Maryland and North Carolina.

At the time of the decision, Republicans in Lansing had appealed an April ruling in the 6th Circuit which had ordered Michigan's governor and legislature to redraw 34 districts — nine congressional, 10 state Senate and 15 state House districts — by Aug. 1 or it would do it for them.

The 6th Circuit panel issued a 146-page opinion saying that Republicans who drew and enacted new political boundaries after the 2010 Census did so in a way that either packed Democratic voters into districts or diluted their numbers in other districts in such as way as to be unconstitutional. 

The Supreme Court decision in the Maryland and North Carolina cases — which both parties complained of gerrymandering, which is the practice of drawing district lines in such a way as to help one political party or another — effectively ensured that the Michigan decision would be vacated, however.

That decision split the court 5-4 as Roberts, along with conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, found that no test has yet been proposed which is precise and politically neutral enough to indicate when "political gerrymandering has gone too far." Liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen voted against. 

Because of the decision, Michigan's political lines will remain in place at least until 2022, when a bipartisan commission created by a statewide referendum last year is expected to take over the process of drawing those boundaries.

Contact Todd Spangler at tspangler@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @tsspangler. Read more on Michigan politics and sign up for our elections newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan gerrymandering case is dropped by Supreme Court