Conservative activists received a frosty reception from a three-judge panel in Baltimore Tuesday as they sought to scrap Maryland’s bitterly disputed congressional district map. The federal judges peppered a lawyer for the challengers with skeptical questions as they considered a motion by the State Board of Elections to dismiss the lawsuit. The panel did not rule on the motion but expressed doubts about the plaintiffs’ constitutional assertions and their legal standing to bring the suit in the first place. The plaintiffs — led by a trio of prominent Republicans — sued last year in the latest of several efforts to throw out the congressional map and force the General Assembly to draw a new one. They are represented by lawyers from the conservative legal group Judicial Watch.
Robert Popper, senior attorney for Judicial Watch, acknowledged that there’s no case law that says lawmakers can’t take politics into account when drawing district lines. But he called on the court to rule that the current lines are so egregiously convoluted that they must be ruled invalid. “We don’t want maximally compact. We want minimally compact,” he told the judges.
When Circuit Judge Paul V. Niemeyer told him to “articulate your standard” for compact districts, Popper urged the panel to fashion its own. Neither Niemeyer nor his colleagues, District Judges James K. Bredar and George Levi Russell III, displayed any enthusiasm for doing so.
Niemeyer also questioned Popper sharply about whom Judicial Watch was claiming to represent. Popper said the plaintiffs were suing on behalf of all Marylanders — especially those in the six of eight districts he claimed were impermissibly gerrymandered.