On December 23, 2021, a group of Maryland voters and Republican members of the Maryland General Assembly filed a state lawsuit against the Maryland State Board of Elections, its State Administrator, and its Chair, challenging the state's enacted congressional redistricting plan as violating the Maryland Constitution and Declaration of Rights. Plaintiffs generally 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. Specifically, plaintiffs first assert that the partisan plan 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," because it seeks to predetermine election outcomes and dilutes the voting strength of Republican voters. Second, plaintiffs allege that by passing a partisan gerrymander designed to manipulate electoral outcomes, the General Assembly's plan violates Article I, Section 7 of the Maryland Constitution, which provides that the General Assembly "shall pass [l]aws necessary for the preservation of the purity of [e]lections." Third, they assert that the plan violates the equal protection principles of Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights by intentionally discriminating against Republican voters and infringing upon their fundamental right to vote on the basis of their political affiliation. Finally, plaintiffs assert that the plan also violates the freedom of speech protections of Article 40 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights by intentionally benefitting Democratic voters as preferred speakers and targeting Republican voters as disfavored speakers based on the views they express when voting. Plaintiffs are seeking a judicial declaration that the enacted congressional plan is unconstitutional, an injunction barring the defendants from using the plan in any future elections, and a court order requiring the defendants to delay or postpone candidate filing deadlines until the General Assembly enacts a new, lawful redistricting plan.
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. C02CV21001816
- Complaint - 12/23/21
- Memorandum in Support of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment - 1/31/22
- Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment - 2/11/22
- Brief of Amicus Curiae in Support of Plaintiffs - 3/10/22
- Memorandum Opinion and Order - 3/25/22
- Declaratory Judgment, Permanent Injunction, and Order of Remand - 3/25/22
Maryland Court of Appeals - No. 65