On December 21, 2021, a group of Maryland Voters filed a state lawsuit against the State Administrator and Chair of the Maryland State Board of Elections, challenging the state's enacted congressional redistricting plan as violating the Maryland Constitution and Declaration of Rights. Plaintiffs allege that the enacted congressional plan is a partisan gerrymander designed to favor Democrats and disfavor Republicans and to achieve this partisan result, the General Assembly drew incredibly noncompact districts that fail to respect geographic and political boundaries. They assert that the plan's highly irregular districts drawn for partisan advantage harms the plaintiffs' and other Republican voters' ability to cast a meaningful and effective vote as compared to other voters, their constitutional right to speak and express their views to legislators, and imposes additional burdens on Republican candidates running for office, and in doing so, violates Article 7 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, which provides that "elections ought to be free and frequent" and that "every [qualified] citizen . . . ought to have the right of suffrage." Additionally, plaintiffs assert that the plan violates the requirements of Article III, Section 4 of the Maryland Constitution that legislative districts be compact and give "due regard" to natural and political subdivision boundaries. Although this provision refers only to "legislative districts," plaintiffs assert that the drafters intended this term to encompass both congressional and legislative districts, citing the existence of other state constitutional redistricting provisions that explicitly direct their application to "legislative districts for the election of members of the Senate and the House of Delegates." Plaintiffs are seeking a declaratory judgment that the enacted congressional plan is unconstitutional, a temporary and permanent injunction barring the defendants from holding any future elections using the plan, and a court order directing the state to either adopt a new, non-partisan redistricting plan prior to the 2022 primary election or, in the alternative, to use the Maryland Citizen Redistricting Commission's recommended congressional plan for the 2022 primary election.
On March 25, 2022 the circuit court issued its opinion and order striking down the enacted congressional plan as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The court first held the redistricting criteria in article III, § 4 of the Maryland Constitution provided a standard for evaluating the constitutionality of the congressional plan because the term "legislative districts" as used in that provision could apply to both congressional and state legislative districts, or, alternatively, by application of the Free Elections Clause and Equal Protection Clause in the Maryland Declaration of Rights, which each implicate the use of the § 4 criteria. Applying that standard, the court found based off the evidence presented at trial that the enacted congressional plan violated both § 4's compactness and due regard for political subdivisions criteria in favor of "extreme" partisan considerations, noting the plan's excessively high number of subdivision splits and non-compact districts by any standard measure of compactness. Additionally, the court found the plan also violated the Free Elections, Equal Protection, and Free Speech provisions in the Maryland Declaration of Rights by purposefully discriminating against Republican voters and candidates based on their political affiliations with no sufficiently compelling governmental interest to justify such treatment. Finally, the court generally found the plan's partisan intent and effects to violate the fundamental limiting principle enshrined by the Maryland Constitution and Declaration of Rights that the government's power must be exercised to ensure the will of the people is heard, no matter their political affiliation. Having declared the plan unconstitutional, the court enjoined the plan from being used in the 2022 elections and ordered the General Assembly to enact a new, constitutional plan no later than March 30, 2022, which the court will review in a hearing on April 1.
The General Assembly passed a new congressional redistricting plan on March 30 and submitted it to the court, but the court declined to approve the plan on the grounds the Governor had not yet signed the new plan into law and the court's original decision had already been appealed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. On April 1, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued an order assuming jurisdiction over the appeal from the Court of Special Appeals. On April 4, the parties moved to voluntarily dismiss the appeal after the Governor agreed to sign the new congressional redistricting plan into law, which the court granted the same day.
Maryland Circuit Court, Anne Arundel County - No. C02CV21001773
- Complaint - 12/21/21
- Brief of Amicus Curiae in Support of Plaintiffs - 3/10/22
- Memorandum Opinion and Order - 3/25/22
- Declaratory Judgment, Preliminary Injunction, and Order of Remand - 3/25/22
Maryland Court of Appeals - No. 65