The judge was not pulling any punches. Siding with Judicial Watch in a challenge to a congressional redistricting plan cooked up by Democrats dominating the Maryland state legislature, Judge Lynne Battaglia—herself a Democrat—threw haymakers. The Democrat redistricting map was an “extreme partisan gerrymander.” Democrats had attempted to “suppress the voice of Republican voters.” It was drawn up with “partisanship as predominant intent.” It violated state constitutional provisions on equal protection and free speech. It subordinated “constitutional criteria to political consideration.”
It was out. Making history—for the first time, a Maryland court ruled that a congressional redistricting plan violated the state constitution—Judge Battaglia banned the use of the gerrymander map and ordered the Maryland General Assembly back to the drawing board.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton hailed the decision. “This key court victory against abusive partisan gerrymandering by Democrats in Maryland could set a national precedent,” he said. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan called it “an historic milestone.”
Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit on behalf of twelve Maryland voters who objected to the state legislature’s plan and was joined at trial by a second set of plaintiffs. The argument? The gerrymandered maps diminished their right to participate in a free and fair election on an equal basis with other Maryland voters. The court agreed.
The March ruling has begun to echo through the national debate. In New York, in April, the state’s highest court rejected a new redistricting map favored by Democrats dominating state politics. The court ruled that the map violated a state prohibition on partisan gerrymandering, saying it was created with “impermissible partisan purpose.” Court observers say the Maryland case was discussed in briefings and oral arguments in New York.
In 2019, the Supreme Court rejected political gerrymandering claims brought solely under the federal Constitution. Since then, the battle over redistricting has spread to state courts throughout the country. According to experts surveyed by Judicial Watch, cases related to gerrymandering and redistricting are underway in nineteen states. Among the states are the electoral powerhouses Texas, Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio. You can read about some of the upcoming cases here.
Tough anti-gerrymandering measures are one way to start cleaning up dirty election practices, says Robert Popper, Judicial Watch’s director of voting integrity efforts. Gerrymandering is a “method of cheating [that] has been around for 200 years,” Popper told journalist Tim Pool. “If you’re a state that doesn’t have an anti-gerrymandering provision, then suddenly it’s a political issue. Why don’t you? You want districts that are ugly and screwed up for partisan advantage, you want to cheat opponents in state elections.”
In Maryland, the state legislature quickly capitulated in the face of the court ruling and signed on to a new, fairer redistricting map. In New York, redistricting has been turned over to a special master. But Popper warns of trouble in states where political gerrymandering survives, with partisan operatives possibly turning to “new, computer-generated maps” that could become “so convoluted that’s it’s effectively like you don’t have a district at all.” We’re not there yet, says Popper. “But if we don’t deal with gerrymandering, my prediction is, that’s coming.”
Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: firstname.lastname@example.org
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