A process for redistricting is defined in Article IV, Section 6 of the Michigan Constitution, which was ratified in 1963. It empowers an eight-member, bipartisan special commission to draw district lines based on certain criteria. The commission was employed three times — in 1964, 1972 and 1982.[*] These constitutional redistricting guidelines and the commission, however, were deemed unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution by the Michigan Supreme Court in 1982 and have been invalidated. In other words, Michigan currently has no binding constitutional rules for redistricting.
As part of this 1982 decision, the state’s highest court created new redistricting guidelines and appointed Bernard Apol, who had experience working with the redistricting commissions, to draw new districts based on them. These new guidelines became known as the Apol Standards and were used to redraw districts in 1982 and 1992. The court also authorized the Legislature to take charge of redistricting in the future, based on these new standards.
The Michigan Legislature responded first in 1996 by passing into statute redistricting rules, largely following the Apol Standards, for Michigan legislative districts. Then in 1999, the Legislature passed similar statutory guidelines for congressional redistricting.
These legislative guidelines, however, were never actually binding, as the Michigan Supreme Court declared in a 2002 case. The reason for this is that one legislature cannot create laws that control the actions of future legislatures. Therefore, the Michigan Legislature does not necessarily have to follow the statutory redistricting guidelines created by previous legislatures.
The result of these developments and legal rulings is that the only rules the Legislature must follow when redrawing districts are those contained in the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes and case law established by U.S. Supreme Court.[†]
[*] These commissions never successfully produced a new districting plan, however. No proposed redistricting plan was approved by the eight-member commission, split evenly between four Republicans and four Democrats. Because the commission failed to adopt a plan, the Michigan Supreme Court, as it is empowered to by the Michigan Constitution, selected the district map to be used during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Chris Couch, “Legislative Redistricting” (Michigan House Fiscal Agency, Jan. 2, 1997), https://perma.cc/6JUU-SNP5.
[†] The last two district maps the Legislature created in 2002 and 2011 were both challenged for violating these federal rules. While the 2002 district map was upheld in federal court, the legal challenge against the 2011 district map is still ongoing. For more information, see: Justin Levitt, “All About Redistricting: Michigan” (Loyala Law School Los Angeles, 2018), https://perma.cc/Q9UA-99X3; “League of Women Voters of Michigan v. Johnson” (Brennan Center for Justice, Sep. 21, 2018), https://perma.cc/CE4N-DBUJ.