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A Michigan redistricting trial over Detroit maps concludes in Kalamazoo

The Federal courthouse and former US Postal Service office taken from the corner of Michigan Avenue and Park St.
Leona Larson
The redistricting trial was heard before a three-judge panel at the Kalamazoo Federal Building and Courthouse of the U.S. District Court, Western District of Michigan. The building was used as post office until 1959, when the post office moved to a new facility on Miller Road.

A federal district court in Kalamazoo heard closing arguments Wednesday in a redistricting case. At issue are nine Detroit-area state legislative districts.

A group of Michigan voters asked the court to determine if nine Detroit-area districts were re-drawn to dilute the political power of Detroit’s Black voters and whether that violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

John Bursch represents some of the plaintiffs. He explained why the case was heard in Kalamazoo, and not eastern Michigan.

“When we originally filed the lawsuit, there was already a federal three-judge panel that was hearing a congressional redistricting case out of Michigan. And so we filed in the Western District as a related case, so that the two cases could proceed together.

“As it turns out, the Congressional District challenge was thrown out. And so now we're the only one left."

Closing arguments in the five-day trial were heard on Wednesday. Bursch said attorneys must file final briefs before the case goes to the three judges for a ruling.

“If the court rules in favor of the plaintiff, the Black voters in Detroit, the new maps will have to be drawn. And under the Michigan Constitution provision that we adopted, the very first order is to comply with the US Constitution and the Federal Voting Rights Act."

The three-judge panel is expected to make its decision in January. Bursch said the judges will also need to decide if the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission will have enough time to draw new maps for 2024.

If not, Bursch said, “the three-judge panel would have to impose a map, because we can't use a pair of maps for the House and Senate in the next cycle that are tainted by racial discrimination.”

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is one of the defendants named in the case. Her office declined to comment. A decision is expected in early 2024.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.