Judicial Watch Joins Allied Educational Foundation in Asking Supreme Court to Reject Maryland’s Gerrymandering Scheme
Urges High Court to Overturn Lower Court Ruling that Used ‘Overly Broad’ Standards to Uphold the ‘Most Extreme and Effective Congressional Gerrymander in the Nation’
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today it joined with Allied Educational Foundation (AEF) in filing an amici curiae brief in the United States Supreme Court seeking to overturn Maryland’s 2011 congressional redistricting plan, which the brief calls “the most extreme and effective congressional gerrymander in the nation” (Benisek, et al. v. Lamone, et al., (No. 17-333)). The Benisek case is on appeal from the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland after the lower court ruled for the state in dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in this case on Wednesday (March 28).
Critics of the Maryland plan have charged that the new congressional map was designed specifically to minimize the voting power of particular voters. The Washington Post editorialized:
The map … mocks the idea that voting districts should be compact or easily navigable. The eight districts respect neither jurisdictional boundaries nor communities of interest. To protect incumbents and for partisan advantage, the map has been sliced, diced, shuffled and shattered, making districts resemble studies in cubism.
Judicial Watch and AEF argue that the test applied by the lower court in this case was inadequate to determine whether Maryland’s redistricting scheme constitutes an unconstitutional, partisan gerrymander that violates the First Amendment. It further argues that if the lower court ruling is allowed to stand, it “will ensure that every redistricting case will become a federal case.”
In their brief, Judicial Watch and AEF argue that courts must be able “to distinguish unconstitutional gerrymandering from ordinary political redistricting,” which will require “manageable and politically neutral standards for detecting gerrymandering.”
Traditional districting principles, such as compactness, contiguity, and respect for established political boundaries have been bedrock considerations under this court’s redistricting jurisprudence for decades, and there is no reason to discard them in favor of untried standards that rely entirely on what legislators say (or, in future, learn not to say) and on the unpredictable fortunes of political parties. Much less is there any reason to follow currently favored social science theories that disregard decades of practical knowledge and jurisprudence concerning the process of drawing district lines.
The Judicial Watch/AEF brief further explains traditional districting principles about the standards adopted by the lower courts in both the Benisek and Gill cases and argues that the lower court ruling in this case should be overturned for ignoring them.
“The Supreme Court would be on a very dangerous course if it endorses the lead of the lower courts on gerrymandering,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The lower courts in Maryland would tell the Supreme Court to ignore the most abusive gerrymander in the country, while the lower courts in Wisconsin would have the courts overturn district lines if not enough Democrats win. The Supreme Court should pick a reasonable judicial standard for evaluating gerrymanders to ensure that voters can pick their politicians – not the other way around.”
In August 2017, Judicial Watch and AEF filed an amici brief in the Wisconsin gerrymandering case Beverly R. Gill, et al. v. William Whitford, et al., (No. 16-1161), urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the arbitrary method of drawing Wisconsin’s electoral districts adopted by the lower court, which ignored traditional districting principles. Judicial Watch and AEF argued in that joint brief that the lower court ruling relied, in part, on a novel test for gerrymandering found nowhere in the Constitution known as the “the efficiency gap,” which focuses on a purely hypothetical estimate of what each party “should” win in a “fair” election and amounts, in practice, to court-ordered, proportional party representation scheme.
Judicial Watch earlier filed a lawsuit on behalf of voters across Maryland, also seeking to overturn Maryland’s 2011 gerrymandering scheme. In August 2016, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland ruled for the state in dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims. Judicial Watch filed an appeal with the Supreme Court in October 2016. On January 9, 2017, the court dismissed the appeal.