Thanks to Maryland gerrymandering case, DC residents have hope for voting rights

Thanks to Maryland gerrymandering case, DC residents have hope for voting rights
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The U.S. Supreme Court’s acceptance of a gerrymandering case arising from the U.S. District Court in Maryland has piqued the interest of the District of Columbia.

The case, argued on March 26, 2019, seeks to resolve concerns that states are using redistricting plans to choose congressional representation for targeted populations. The issue to be addressed by the Supreme Court, however, is whether Maryland’s 2011 redistricting plan intended to diminish Republican representation in the United States Congress.

The crux of the matter is the District Court’s finding that Maryland’s 2011 redistricting plan violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The District Court held that the redistricting plan placed an unconstitutional burden on both the plaintiffs’ representational and associational rights based upon party affiliation and voting history.

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The Supreme Court has now opened the door to address political manipulation (gerrymandering) in the context of the First Amendment. This is excellent news for the 700,000 residents of Washington, D.C., because we are equally entitled to these First Amendment protections.

I urge the justices during their deliberations on the Maryland case to look across the street and understand that the complete deprivation of voting rights for Washingtonians raises the same constitutional question. The complete lack of equal congressional voting representation for a population of U.S. citizens (in D.C.) is at least as great a constitutional consequence as the dilution or diminishment of voting representation by political party (in Maryland).

Imagine, for a moment, had the citizens of the 6th District of Maryland been stripped of congressional representation altogether. The issue before the District Court would have been simple — it must compel the restoration of the Marylanders’ rights to vote for congressional representatives.

Very few may be aware that citizens of the District of Columbia also voted for representatives with full congressional powers when the District was established. However, that right was taken away in the early 1800s. More than two centuries later, disenfranchisement continues, and the congressional representation of our residents is not only diluted but almost fully diminished.

Our residents are familiar with Maryland’s recent arguments, because efforts to restore full representation in D.C. have been undoubtedly blocked because of party affiliations. The residents of the District of Columbia are seeking restoration of representation by having Congress enact H.R. 51 to grant D.C. statehood.

So why not D.C.? D.C. has a larger population than the states of Wyoming and Vermont, has 28,000 veterans, and pays more taxes per capita than any state in the U.S. The federal politics of D.C. statehood, however, are the same as the issues pending now before the Supreme Court in the Maryland case.

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The plaintiffs in the Maryland case are seeking a ruling that would require Maryland to redraw the boundaries of the 6th Congressional District to restore Republican representation. This is the same issue that D.C. faces: the assertion of the political power by one group — in this case congressional Republicans — that denies equal congressional representation to another — here the citizens of the District of Columbia, who are majority Democratic. It is commonly believed that statehood for D.C. would mean one more Democrat in the House and two more in the Senate.

Members of Congress have voted along party lines against D.C. statehood for this very reason. This is a situation that cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny. We look forward to the Supreme Court addressing this issue, because the First Amendment protects citizens of Maryland and the District of Columbia equally, regardless of political affiliations.

Beverly L. Perry serves as senior adviser to Mayor Muriel Bowser, through her oversight of the Office of Policy and Legislative Affairs, the Office of Federal and Regional Affairs, and the Office of the Secretary.