(CN) – Voters say in a federal lawsuit that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s decision to leave disgraced former U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr.’s congressional seat vacant until the next general election leaves minority residents in the Detroit area without a voice for most of 2018.
Debra Rhodes and four other residents of Michigan’s 13th congressional district, who includes parts of Detroit and its suburbs, sued the governor in Detroit federal court on Wednesday.
Represented by Detroit attorney Michael Gilmore, the voters say they want to protect their “constitutional right to legislative representation and the fundamental right to vote.”
The congressional seat at issue became vacant when 88-year-old Democratic U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. retired on Dec. 5 after facing allegations of sexual harassment. He had held the seat since 1964.
The plaintiffs are challenging Snyder’s decision to wait to fill the seat in the next regular election on Nov. 6, 2018.
According to the complaint, the 13th congressional district is made up of 62 percent minority residents who will be without representation in the U.S. House of Representatives for most of next year. The voters say Snyder cited the cost of a special election as a reason to wait until the regular primary and general election dates.
“No state or federal law prohibits defendant from calling a timely, real, and actual special election,” the lawsuit states. “Unless a timely, real, and actual special election is called at once, approximately 658,383 citizens in the district, including electors, who are plaintiffs herein, will remain without representation in the House until after November 6, 2018, a period spanning nearly 11 months, at minimum.”
The voters note that, because of Conyers’ resignation, their district did not have a vote on the $1.5 trillion tax-reform law recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump last week.
They “will continue to be voiceless on important issues that effect its citizens and the country as a whole, until the next regularly-scheduled election date,” the complaint states.
The plaintiffs asked the court for an injunction “from the latest action of systemic discrimination, by the governor of the state of Michigan toward regions of the state containing primarily people of color,” and to force Snyder to schedule a special election.
They also seek a declaration that the state law allowing the governor discretion on whether to fill a congressional vacancy is overbroad.
The voters allege violations of their right to vote and to have due process, political expression and equal representation under the U.S. and Michigan Constitutions.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Gilmore, said via email that Snyder “continues to treat residents of urban areas across the state as second-class citizens and is violating a laundry list of constitutional laws in doing so.”
“By holding this congressional seat vacant for 11 months, he is denying minority residents of the 13th congressional district the right to vote and the right to be represented in Congress,” he said. “This is yet another attempt to further silence the voice of minorities in the state and disregard their views. From putting emergency managers only in minority school districts and city halls to signing-off on the Flint water crisis for fiscal benefit, Gov. Snyder has historically cited cost-saving measures as his reason for denying civil and human rights to urban areas. Here, he is once again attempting to balance the state’s budget on the backs of black people, in the name of ‘cost savings.'”
The Michigan attorney general’s office did not respond Friday to an email request for comment on the lawsuit.