Gerrymandering is the deliberate manipulation of district boundaries in order to benefit a certain political party or group.
“The lawsuit alleges that the Maryland district map is the most distorted and confused in the country,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said at a press conference announcing the lawsuit in Washington on Wednesday.
It was filed against the Maryland state administrator of elections and the chair of the State Board of Elections “on behalf of voters in each of Maryland’s eight congressional districts,” according to a press release by the non-partisan watchdog group.
“Gerrymandering is not primarily something that Democrats and Republicans do to each other, Gerrymandering is something that legislators and other state actors do to voters,” the lawsuit points out, calling it “a chronic, persistent failure of democracy” which “cannot be remedied by ordinary democratic means - that is, by holding more elections.”
In the lawsuit, Judicial Watch argues that the gerrymandered districts violate Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution, which states: “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States.”
But Maryland legislators drew gerrymandered districts that “split counties, county fragments and split precincts, resulting in the arbitrary political fragmentation of the state.” By doing so, they violated Maryland voters’ right to elect their own representatives, Fitton said.
“In Maryland, politicians pick their voters - which is unconstitutional,” he pointed out.
“Maryland’s gerrymandered congressional district map is a national embarrassment and harms both Democrat and Republican voters” as well as independents, Fitton continued. “The court should require Maryland to go back and draw district maps that respect Maryland voters and don’t make a mockery of common sense and the rule of law.”
The current congressional district map in Maryland was drawn in 2011 under then-Governor Martin O’Malley, who signed the redistricting plan into law. It moved 1.6 million people, or 27 percent of Marylander voters, into a new congressional district. The state's 3rd congressional district is particularly misshapen, and is the second most gerrymandered district in the nation, according to The Washington Post.
“Voters do not choose where to live so as to suit the purposes of legislators trying to draw gerrymandered districts. They must distend, shrink and generally distort district boundaries to create districts that contain the mix of voters that best achieves their partisan goals. Exceedingly non-compact districts confuse voters regarding such basic matters as which district they reside in, who represents them, who is running for office in their district and where they go to vote,” Fitton said.
This isn’t the first time that Maryland’s congressional map has been challenged. In 2011, O’Malley was sued in federal court over the newly created districts, but that case and three other lawsuits challenging the state’s redrawn congressional map were dismissed.
But Judicial Watch claims its lawsuit will prove more successful because it provides a solution that can be managed judicially: the Polsby-Popper scale, which is a widely used tool that measures the compactness of electoral districts.
Currently, Maryland has an average score of 11.3 out of a possible 100 on the Popper scale, which is the lowest in the country.
“Judicial Watch’s lawsuit is unique in proposing a single, objective compactness measure to determine whether states are engaged in unconstitutional gerrymandering,” the watchdog group says.