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Justices uphold Md.’s inmate residency law

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of Maryland’s “No Representation Without Population Act,” which ties residency to the last address of an inmate rather than the location in which he or she is incarcerated during the U.S. Census.

Monday’s order by the high court summarily affirmed an earlier three-judge panel’s decision to throw the lawsuit out. A group of voters had complained that the new maps passed by the General Assembly last year discriminated against African-Americans by failing to create a third majority-black congressional district in the state.

“We’re very pleased; it’s really a great affirmation of the Maryland law that made this an important civil rights issue,” said Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland.

Jeon said she hopes the ruling would spur other states to adopt similar plans when it comes to counting inmates. Otherwise, she said it lends too much clout to prison towns as opposed to the areas where the inmates resided before being jailed.

“The plan is so much fairer,” she said.

The plaintiffs argued in the original lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt on Nov. 10, 2011, that the state’s No Representation Without Population Act violated their constitutional rights under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments. The plaintiffs also alleged the plan amounted to an illegal gerrymander.

In the lower court ruling, three federal judges said the lawsuit didn’t meet the burden of proving a partisan gerrymander. In addition, the panel rejected arguments that the act, passed by the state legislature in April 2010, was unconstitutional.

James Paul Mayes, the Jamestown, N.C., attorney who represented some of the plaintiffs, said the decision was predictable. He said the group of plaintiffs did not have a problem with inmates being counted but felt the law was politicizing the issue.

“It’s being used as a shield to legitimize or protect the redistricting plan,” Mayes said.

Mayes said that the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee was in the process of collecting signatures for a referendum.

“We felt that the law should have been struck down … or at least it should have been amended,” he said.

Daily Record reporter Lizzy McLellan and The Associated Press contributed to this article.