- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) - A group of Maryland residents arguing that their lawsuit over the state’s 2011 redrawing of its congressional districts was thrown out prematurely seemed to find some sympathy Wednesday with the justices at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The group of residents originally filed their lawsuit in 2013 arguing that the new district map, which allowed Democrats to pick up an additional seat in Congress, was irrational and violated their First Amendment and other rights. But the lawsuit was thrown out within months.

During oral arguments, the residents’ lawyer asked the Supreme Court to agree that that the lawsuit should not have been dismissed by a single judge and instead have been forwarded on to a special three-judge panel.

Stephen Shapiro, a Maryland resident who initiated the case and is now attending law school in Washington, said after the argument that he felt “very, very hopeful given the comments of the justices.” Shapiro, a Democrat, joined with two Republicans to file the case.

The group’s lawyer, Michael Kimberly, told the justices that a federal law requires redistricting and voting rights cases to be heard by a three-judge panel so long as they are not ridiculous or far-fetched.

Justice Stephen Breyer at one point seemed to agree that the Maryland residents’ case merited review by a three-judge panel, acknowledging that they want to “raise about as important a question as you can imagine.”

Steven Sullivan, a lawyer representing Maryland, said after the argument that even if the Supreme Court agrees that the case was entitled to a three-judge panel he would “predict it would have a hard time” winning there.

The issue of whether or not a case gets to a three-judge panel is important, groups who filed briefs in the case say, because the panel is supposed to allow redistricting cases to come to a speedier conclusion and is viewed as having more authority than a single judge. The panel’s decision is also directly appealable to the Supreme Court.

Maryland’s new map resulted in the state’s eight Congressional seats being filled by seven Democrats and one Republican. Under the old map, six Democrats and two Republicans represented the state in Congress. Other legal challenges to the new map have failed.

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Follow Jessica Gresko at https://twitter.com/jessicagresko

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