Federal judges rule Maryland must draw new congressional map for 2020

Federal judges rule Maryland must draw new congressional map for 2020
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A unanimous panel of three federal judges on Wednesday ordered Maryland to draw a new congressional map for 2020, saying its current districts are gerrymandered to favor Democrats.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland tossed out the 2011 map for the state's 6th Congressional District, now held by Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyMaryland New Members 2019 Castro takes steps toward likely 2020 bid Federal judges rule Maryland must draw new congressional map for 2020 MORE (D), and ordered new maps be drawn by 2020.

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Maryland officials have to submit the new redistricting plan by March 7, or the court will appoint a nonpartisan commission to produce the plan.

Republican voters had argued that Democratic state officials drew the district lines in 2011 to dilute their voting power and beat the Republican incumbent, then-Rep. Roscoe Bartlett.

The district court in August 2017 denied their initial request to block Maryland from using the map in future elections and put the case on hold while the Supreme Court considered a separate partisan gerrymandering case out of Wisconsin. 

On Wednesday, a day after the election, District Judge Paul Niemeyer said the record shows the state specifically targeted voters in the Sixth Congressional District who were registered as Republicans and who had historically voted for Republican candidates.

“The massive and unnecessary reshuffling of the 6th District, involving one-half of its population and dictated by party affiliation and voting history, had no other cause than the intended actions of the controlling Democratic officials to burden Republican voters by converting the District," Judge Paul V. Niemeyer of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit wrote in the decision.

“Members of the Republican Party in the Sixth District, ‘deprived of their natural political strength by a partisan gerrymander, were burdened in fundraising, attracting volunteers, campaigning, and generating interest in voting in an atmosphere of general confusion and apathy,” he added.

Chief U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar, in an opinion, supported the decision, calling partisan gerrymandering a “noxious, a cancer on our democracy.”

The Supreme Court in June heard a case about partisan gerrymandering that cited the Maryland case, but the high court did not make a final decision about when gerrymandering is unconstitutional.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Wednesday called the decision “a victory for the vast majority of Marylanders who want free and fair elections.”

Hogan easily won reelection on Tuesday night over Democrat Ben Jealous.

The altered map in 2011 added Democratic voters from Montgomery County into the district while moving out hundreds of thousands of voters from rural Maryland.

“What the Maryland legislature did was to shuffle 360,000 people out and bring in 350,000 people," Justice Elena Kagan said during the Supreme Court case. "The result of that is that the district went from 47 percent Republican and 36 percent Democratic to exactly the opposite, 45 percent Democratic and 34 percent Republican."

On Tuesday, Democrat David Trone won the race for the 6th District seat over Republican Amie Hoeber.

Common Cause which backed the lawsuit, hailed the court’s ruling.

“The court clearly sided with voters today by declaring that an unconstitutional, partisan gerrymander in Maryland squashed political participation and speech,” Kathay Feng, the group’s national redistricting director, said in a statement. 

“Gerrymandering is an abuse of power no matter who does it, and both Democrats and Republicans use it for their political gain.”

-- Updated 6:45 p.m.