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Supreme Court adds Maryland redistricting case to merits docket

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Friday added [docket] a Maryland redistricting case, Benisek v. Lamone, to its merits docket on Friday, along with six other cases [JURIST report].

While the case [SCOTUSblog materials] was previously being considered on a jurisdictional question, SCOTUS decided to delay answering the jurisdictional question until the case was heard on its merits. The plaintiff claims that the redistricting in Maryland violates the First Amendment and was used as retaliation against Republican voters. The issues are whether the three-judge panel erred [opinion, pdf] in deciding that to prove injury, a plaintiff must prove that redistricting has and will continue to "dictate the outcome to every election held in the district under the gerrymandered map," whether the court erred in not applying a burden-shifting framework since a First Amendment violation is claimed, and whether the court erred in finding the plaintiffs had insufficient evidence to show that redistricting was a but-for cause for Democratic victories since 2011, when the map was redrawn.

In their statement of probable jurisdiction [text, PDF], the voters challenging the map asserted that SCOTUS should find jurisdiction based on, among other reasons, the decision in McCutcheon v. FEC [JURIST report], which found that the court has no discretion to refuse adjudication on the merits of a substantial question brought under 28 U.S.C. § 1253 [text].

The petitioners also highlight the fact that they are only challenging the drawing of a single district, not an entire electoral map, and thus that their case's reliance solely on First Amendment grounds eliminates some of the complexity involved in other redistricting cases.

This is not the only redistricting case awaiting a SCOTUS opinion. In October, SCOTUS heard [JURIST report] oral arguments for a Wisconsin redistricting case, Gill v. Whitford [JURIST news archive], in which the plaintiff accuses Republicans of gerrymandering state congressional districts to benefit their party. A primary issue in the Wisconsin case is which test should be used to determine the extent of gerrymandering which a court is capable of addressing.

In November, Justice Alito denied [JURIST report] a request for stay in a Pennsylvania redistricting case, Agre v. Wolf [JURIST news archive], a federal case challenging the map Pennsylvania legislators drew after the 2010 census. Notably, Pennsylvania's map is being challenged in both federal and state court..

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