Second lawsuit filed over Maryland’s new congressional districting map

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Fair Maps Maryland, an anti-gerrymandering group with ties to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), announced a lawsuit Thursday alleging that Maryland’s new congressional map violates the state constitution.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Republican voters from all eight of the state’s congressional districts, including two state delegates: Del. Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore and Harford) and Del. Christopher T. Adams (R-Lower Shore). The lawsuit charges that Maryland’s new congressional map — passed by Democratic lawmakers during a special session earlier this month — violates the Article I, Section 7 of the Maryland Constitution. That section requires the General Assembly to “pass Laws necessary for the preservation of the purity of Elections.”

“Through intentional partisan manipulation, it cracks Republican voters across Maryland, including Plaintiffs, in a way which ensures that Republicans do not have a vote share majority in any congressional district,” the lawsuit reads. “Thus, the 2021 Plan intentionally dilutes the voting power of Plaintiffs and renders their votes nearly meaningless in congressional elections.”

The new congressional map was proposed by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, created by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County). Jones and Ferguson are both members of that commission alongside Senate President Pro Tem Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s), House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery), House Minority Leader Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany) and Senate Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel). That panel is chaired by Karl Aro, a former head of the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services.

The plaintiffs argue that, in addition to violating the Maryland Constitution, the new congressional map also violates the Maryland Declaration of Rights’ guarantee that no one “ought to be taken or imprisoned or disseized of his freehold, liberties or privileges, or outlawed, or exiled, or, in any manner, destroyed, or deprived of his life, liberty or property, but by the judgment of his peers, or by the Law of the land.”

“The 2021 Plan intentionally discriminates against Plaintiffs by diluting the weight of their votes based on party affiliation and depriving them of the opportunity for full and effective participation in the election of their congressional representative,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit also alleges that the new congressional plan violates other provisions in the Maryland Declaration of Rights, including its requirement that elections be “free and frequent; and every citizen having the qualifications prescribed by the Constitution, ought to have the right of suffrage.”

Plaintiffs also take issue with the 1st Congressional District’s new boundaries, which cross over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to include a portion of central Anne Arundel County with the Eastern Shore. That change is set to move the solidly Republican 1st District into tossup territory, although several past iterations of the 1st District also crossed the Chesapeake Bay.

“The Maryland General Assembly created these illegal maps in dark backrooms and now they will be forced to defend them in a court of law,” Doug Mayer, a former Hogan communications strategist and Fair Maps Maryland spokesman, said in a statement. “These Marylanders are victims of electoral corruption and blatant voter suppression, and this lawsuit is their only remedy to undo the damage the General Assembly has perpetuated against them for decades.”

Jones and Ferguson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The lawsuit is the second filed against the state’s new congressional map this week: On Wednesday, Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington) and the national conservative group Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit that likewise alleges the new districts violate the state’s constitution. Both lawsuits focus on state law rather than federal law after the U.S. Supreme Court opted not to weigh in on state-level partisan gerrymandering in the the Benisek v. Lamone case, which centered around the state’s 6th Congressional District as it was drawn in 2011.

Both lawsuits cite the Maryland Constitution’s requirement that “each legislative district shall consist of adjoining territory, be compact in form, and of substantially equal population” and that “due regard shall be given to natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions.” That provision has historically been interpreted to apply to General Assembly districts, and not the state’s congressional boundaries.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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