A three-judge panel for the US District Court for the District of Maryland on Wednesday threw out Maryland’s, finding that the process of redrawing the federal voting districts violated the constitutional rights of residents in the state. The state has until March to draw a new map that passes constitutional muster or the court will appoint its own independent commission to redraw the boundaries.
The case had been sent back to the district court after the US Supreme Court refused to decide the merits of the case in June.
The challenge to Maryland’s map resulted from the redistricting of the state’s electoral districts following the 2010 census. The plaintiffs, a group of seven residents affiliated with the Republican Party, alleged that the Democratic Party-dominated Maryland legislature changed the boundaries of the state’s 6th district based on political affiliation in order to convert the historically Republican district into one dominated by the Democratic party. The suit claimed that the Democratic redistricting added 24,000 historically Democratic voters and removed 66,000 Republicans from the district and violated their constitutional rights to free expression and association under the First Amendment.
In the unanimous decision, Circuit Judge Niemeyer agreed with the plaintiffs, declaring that the redrawn 6th District was “unconstitutionally partisan.” In addition to testimony from the plaintiffs, the court looked at the Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) report that is compiled after each redistricting to determine the average partisan lean of the district. The most recent Cook PVI stated that the 6th district changed from a average of 13 points in favor of Republicans to a 2 point Democratic advantage following the redistricting, representing “the single largest swing in the nation.” Niemeyer stated the prior Supreme Court rulings had held that redistricting was a “quintessentially a political process” due to the process for political legislatures to drawing electoral maps established under Article I of the US Constitution. However, he determined that when “political considerations are taken to such an extreme … it is considered to be repugnant to representative democracy.” Chief Justice James Bredar minced fewer words in his concurring decision, describing partisan gerrymandering as a “cancer on our democracy.”
Gerrymandering has been a hot-button issue in American politics recently. Pennsylvania’s electoral map was declared unconstitutional in January and replaced with a court-drawn map a month later. Four states voted on shifting redistricting duties to independent commissions in the midterm elections on Tuesday, with Colorado, Michigan and Missouri all approving the measures.