A federal lawsuit in Michigan has unearthed a cache of emails that suggests Republican staffers purposely gerrymandered the state’s congressional districts in 2011.
The emails, some of which explicitly refer to gerrymandering and contain strong language trashing Democrats, appear to contradict “years of claims” that Michigan’s district lines were drawn without political bias, reported Bridge Michigan, a magazine run by the Center for Michigan, on Wednesday.
The documents were introduced this week as part of an ongoing federal lawsuit — led by the League of Women Voters of Michigan — that claims Republicans violated the constitution by “cracking and packing Democratic voters while efficiently spreading Republican voters across safe Republican districts” when they drew up state legislative and congressional maps in 2011.
“This is gerrymandering in all its ugliness,” Mark Brewer, attorney for the league, told Bridge Michigan.
In one email, an aide to former Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) boasted about cramming “Dem garbage” into gerrymandered districts.
“In a glorious way that makes it easier to cram ALL of the Dem garbage in Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland and Macomb counties into only four districts. Is there anyone on our side who doesn’t recognize that dynamic?” Jack Daly wrote in a May 2011 email to GOP consultant Jeff Timmer.
Daly also suggested in a separate exchange that residents in two adjacent districts be swapped to meet “the obvious objective ― putting dems in a dem district and reps in a GOP district.”
“It will help increase the black population in the black districts because the former is 17 percent black while the latter is only 6 percent black,” Daly wrote to Timmer and Republican strategist Robert LaBrant.
In another email, an unnamed Republican aide said a Democratic district in southeast Michigan looked like it was “giving the finger” to Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.). “I love it,” the aide quipped.
According to Bridge Michigan, the emails reveal how the Republican drafters had originally intended to create a map that would have given the Republicans 10 House seats compared to just four for the Democrats.
In a May 2011 email, however, LaBrant warned Timmer that such a map would be too “obvious.”
“We needed for legal and PR purposes a good looking map that did not look like an obvious gerrymander,” LaBrant said.
Also that month, LaBrant sent an email to an aide to Dave Camp, who was then a congressman, promising to “accommodate whatever Dave wants in his district.”
“We’ve spent a lot of time providing options to ensure we have a solid 9-5 delegation in 2012 and beyond,” LaBrant wrote, according to The Detroit News, which was the first outlet to report on the existence of the emails.
A study released in June by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan concluded that the state does have a serious gerrymandering problem, with “current district maps drawn so that Republicans are ensured disproportionate majorities on both the state and federal levels.”
“It’s not just sour grapes that one party has won consistently, and the other has been on the outside looking in,” council president Eric Lupher said in a statement. “The game is being stacked against one of the players in the game, and that’s significant.”
The Michigan Supreme Court is currently mulling whether or not a proposed constitutional amendment to end gerrymandering in the state can appear on the state ballot in November. The New York Times suggested this week that the newly-released emails could spur momentum for the amendment.
As Brewer, the attorney for the League of Women Voters of Michigan, noted this week, it’s not just Republicans who are guilty of gerrymandering ― Democrats too have been known to redraw maps for their own partisan advantage.
“Both parties should stop,” Brewer, a former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, told Bridge Michigan. “It’s unfair to voters. It’s grotesque and extreme.”