SOURCE: Judicial Watch

Judicial Watch

June 24, 2015 15:32 ET

Judicial Watch Files Voter Lawsuit Challenging Constitutionality of Maryland Gerrymandering Plan

WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwired - June 24, 2015) - Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a voter lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Maryland's gerrymandered congressional district maps. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of voters in each of Maryland's congressional districts. Plaintiffs in the new lawsuit include Maryland Delegates Neil C. Parrott and Matt Morgan, and former Maryland legislator and gubernatorial candidate Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey.

The lawsuit alleges that the Maryland maps were drawn in a way that violates the U.S. Constitution, especially the provision that "The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States..." (Article 1, Section 2). Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland against Maryland's state administrator of elections and the chair of the state board of elections (Parrott, et al, v. Lamone, et al (No. 1:15-cv-01849)). The lawsuit asks the court, among other relief, to declare the Maryland maps unlawful and require Maryland to redraw the maps.

The lawsuit challenges a congressional districting plan signed into law by then-Gov. Martin O'Malley in October 2011. The lawsuit alleges that the Maryland's congressional district map is the most distorted and confused in the country. According to the lawsuit, the 2011 redistricting plan uprooted millions of Marylanders from their previous congressional districts:

  • [T]he congressional districting plan greatly reconfigured Maryland's congressional districts. Specifically, the new plan removed approximately 1.6 million Marylanders from their previous congressional district and placed them in a different district…In total, 27 percent of all Marylanders were removed from their previous congressional district and placed in a different congressional district.

Maryland's gerrymander produces "split counties, county fragments, and split precincts," resulting in the arbitrary political fragmentation of the state. The lawsuit argues that the plan harms Republicans, Democrats, and independent voters:

  • Maryland's gerrymander harms all Maryland voters, regardless of their party preferences or how they would vote in a particular election, by giving State legislators the power to make choices regarding the State's congressional delegation that only the voters should make. In addition to the general harm inflicted when legislators intrude on powers that should be reserved to voters, Maryland's gerrymander inflicts particular harm on partisan and non-partisan voters of every description.

Second, gerrymandering disadvantages entire legislative districts:

  • Because voters do not choose where to live so as to suit the purposes of legislators trying to draw gerrymandered districts, they must distend, shrink, and generally distort district boundaries to create districts that contain the mix of voters that best achieves their partisan goals…Exceedingly non-compact districts confuse voters regarding such basic matters as which district they reside in, who represents them, who is running for office in their district, and where they go to vote.

The lawsuit presents a "judicially manageable remedy" necessary to resolve clear cases of political gerrymandering, specifically the Polsby-Popper scale, "one of the most widely used measures of electoral district compactness." That scale is a:

  • straightforward application of a mathematically derived compactness measure to congressional districts[which] can be used as a judicially manageable, discernable, and non-arbitrary standard with which to measure, and deter, excessive partisan gerrymandering….Maryland's congressional districts have an average Polsby-Popper compactness score of 11.3. This is the lowest (worst) average compactness score for congressional districts of any state in the nation.

Judicial Watch's lawsuit is unique in proposing a single, objective compactness measure to determine whether states are engaged in unconstitutional gerrymandering. Robert Popper, co-creator of the Polsby-Popper scale, is the lead Judicial Watch attorney in this lawsuit and directs the organization's Election Integrity Project.

Critics charged that the new congressional map was designed specifically to enhance the power of select incumbents while minimizing the voting power of minorities, rural voters and Republicans. The Washington Post editorialized: "The map, drafted under Mr. O'Malley's watchful eye, mocks the idea that voting districts should be compact or easily navigable. The eight districts respect neither jurisdictional boundaries nor communities of interest. To protect incumbents and for partisan advantage, the map has been sliced, diced, shuffled and shattered, making districts resemble studies in cubism."

"In Maryland, politicians pick their voters, which is unconstitutional," said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. "Maryland's gerrymandered congressional district map is a national embarrassment and harms both Democrat and Republican voters. The courts should require Maryland to go back and draw district maps that respect Maryland voters and don't make a mockery of commonsense and the rule of law."