- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Supreme Court on Wednesday turned once again to partisan gerrymandering, hearing the second case this term involving voters who challenged their state’s congressional districts as being so politically drawn that they infringe on voters’ rights.

The latest case comes from Maryland, where voters said the Democrat-run state redrew political boundaries in 2011 to turn the Republican-leaning 6th Congressional District into a Democratic stronghold.

A lower court rejected the voters’ challenge, and they appealed, asking the justices to reject the legislative map.

Last year the justices heard another case from Wisconsin that involved redrawn boundaries to maximize Republican seats in the state legislature. In that case, Democrats challenged the map, arguing their rights were trampled.

Another gerrymandering case from North Carolina is in limbo.

The court has yet to issue a ruling in the Wisconsin case, and Justice Stephen G. Breyer suggested Wednesday the court might want to combine the various cases, then sort out what’s legal and what’s not.

“I do see an advantage. You could have a blackboard and have everyone’s theory on it, and then you’d have the pros and cons and then you’d be able to look at them all,” Justice Breyer said.

Maryland’s 6th Congressional District’s composition was 46.7 percent registered Republicans and 35.8 percent registered Democrats in 2010. The following year, the legislative map was redrawn so the district’s composition was 33.3 percent Republican and 44.1 percent Democratic.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, acknowledged his intent to benefit Democratic voters in approving the redrawn legislative map.

“People were very upfront about what they were trying to do here, which was to create another Democratic district. And they did that,” said Justice Elena Kagan. “The Maryland legislature got exactly what it intended.”

But some justices remained skeptical about when a court should intervene with a specific test, and whether that would make it impossible for states to redistrict.

“Hasn’t this court said, time and again, you can’t take all consideration of partisan advantage out of districting?” said Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Maryland’s map was put to voters in a referendum, and they approved the gerrymander. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 2-to-1 in the state.

Steven M. Sullivan, Maryland’s solicitor general, told the justices Wednesday that overturning the map would be “a blow against democracy.”

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy suggested it would be too late for the court to enjoin Maryland’s map this year with midterm elections right around the corner.

Legal analysts said the court was smart to take cases involving both a Democrat-drawn map and a GOP-drawn map in the same term.

“It seems pretty reasonable to think the court has granted and decided to hear the Maryland case so it could consider two different types of claims at the same time,” said Bradley Garcia, an attorney at O’Melveny law firm and former law clerk for Justice Kagan, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Wisconsin case.

He has urged the justices to come up with a standard for determining if state legislatures went too far in redistricting for partisan purposes.

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