A lawsuit challenging Maryland’s contorted congressional district map on First Amendment grounds has merit and should go forward, a three-judge federal panel ruled Wednesday. The map, drawn by Maryland’s Democratic lawmakers following the 2010 Census, essentially ensured that seven of the state’s eight congressional seats would be under their party’s control. According to the lawsuit, the redistricting specifically targeted western Maryland’s 6th District, where lines were altered to help unseat 10-term incumbent Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R). Bartlett was defeated by John Delaney (D) in 2012. The suit, brought by Steve Shapiro, an American University law student, presents a novel argument: that the gerrymandered map violated the rights of 6th District Republican voters to political association and expression. It asks that the state be barred from using the map in any future elections.
The suit was thrown out by a federal judge in 2014. But the Supreme Court ruled in December that Shapiro should have gotten a hearing before a three-judge panel. The case was sent back to federal district court and heard last month in Baltimore. Wednesday’s 2-to-1 decision will have no impact on November’s congressional elections.
The three-judge panel denied the state’s motion to dismiss the case, which will be tried sometime in the next several months, before the same judicial trio.
Michael Kimberly, Shapiro’s attorney, said that if his client prevails at trial, and the case ends up back in the Supreme Court, it could eventually bring sweeping changes to redistricting across the country. “This could be the biggest gerrymandering case in a generation,” Kimberly said. “It could have enormous impact.”