The United States Supreme Court decided Monday to not rule on a case challenging the design of Maryland’s congressional districts – leaving the state's congressional map for the 2018 elections intact.
The unanimous holding by the Supreme Court means that Maryland, along with several other states, will have to wait for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue of partisan gerrymandering.
Partisan gerrymandering, the act taken by state legislators to redraw congressional districts to deliberately provide advantage to one political party over another, has become a hot topic in Maryland ever since legislators redrew the state’s congressional districts after the 2010 census.
In 2011, Maryland’s 6th Congressional District was redrawn to include more of the heavily Democratic Montgomery County and less of the Republican-heavy Frederick County. In 2012, the 6th District’s 10-term congressman, Republican Roscoe Bartlett, lost to Democratic challenger and current Rep. John Delaney (D-6) after the district was redrawn to favor Democrats.
The change prompted several lawsuits, alleging the redistricting undertaken by the mostly Democratic Maryland legislators was unconstitutional, as it was a deliberate attempt to favor Democrats at the expense of Republican voters, who are heavily concentrated in the western part of the state.
Soon after, Maryland resident John Benisek sued the State, alleging the new district maps violates his right to political association and expression. The case, known as Benisek v. Lamone, made its way to U.S. District Court, where a three-judge panel ruled in favor of the State.
While holding the decision means Maryland congressional districts will stay the same for the upcoming 2018 midterm elections, it does not mean the Supreme Court won't eventually make a ruling on the case.
“We always knew we'd have to take our case to a full trial and final judgment,” said Michael B. Kimberly, the attorney representing Benisek in a statement. “Although we wish we had more guidance from the court on the substance of our claims, we'll press forward to obtain relief in time for the 2020 elections.”
Maryland is not the only state to have its congressional districts challenged on grounds of gerrymandering.
In addition to the holding on Benisek’s case, the Supreme Court also decided to not rule on a similar lawsuit in Wisconsin, kicking that case back to the trial courts – saying there has yet to be any damage shown by the plaintiffs.
The case whether Maryland redrew its congressional districts to favor Democratic candidates is not much of a debate for the State’s most recent governors. Former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), admitted in a January 2017 speech at Boston College that the districts were redrawn to favor Democratic candidates.
“As a governor, I held that redistricting pen in my own Democratic hand,” O’Malley said. “I was convinced that we should use our political power to pass a map that was more favorable for the election of Democratic candidates.”
The state’s current governor, Larry Hogan (R), has pushed for redistricting reform calling on the state legislature to come to the table and establish a non-partisan solution to redrawing the district maps. But Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly have said they are reluctant to change the redistricting process unless Republican-controlled states that also have gerrymandered districts do the same.
“While it’s disappointing that the Supreme Court did not remedy the issue of partisan gerrymandering in Maryland, today’s ruling clearly acknowledged that the constitutionality of Maryland’s districts has not been resolved, and these issues are far from decided,” said Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill, a spokesperson for Hogan.