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Md.’s top court hears challenge to state redistricting plan

A day after voters approved Maryland’s congressional redistricting map, the state’s highest court heard several challenges to the redrawn state legislative districts.

During roughly three hours of arguments Wednesday, the Court of Appeals reacted favorably to the reasoning of Dan Friedman, counsel for the General Assembly.

Friedman argued that the court should “listen to” the special master in the case, retired Court of Appeals Judge Alan M. Wilner, who concluded in September that the map complies with the federal and state mandates that the 47 reconfigured districts be continuous, compact and of substantially equal population; gives due regard to natural boundaries and political subdivisions; and comports with the federal Voting Rights Act.

“The state of Maryland requests the court follow the master’s recommendation and deny challenges to redistricting,” Friedman said.

Gov. Martin O’Malley submitted the map to the General Assembly last December, and it became law in February. The new districts will apply to the 2014 elections, unless one or more of the challenges is successful.

In the three cases, separate parties were arguing that the redistricting resulted in various disadvantages.

First, Christopher Eric Bouchat argued that there should be two senators for each county.

“I believe that a Republican government is one that does not wholly subscribe to a one-man, one-vote doctrine,” Bouchat, a Maryland citizen who is representing himself, said.

The judges seemed dubious, especially when Bouchat began quoting the Federalist Papers.

“The Federalist Papers have nothing to do with redistricting,” Chief Judge Robert M. Bell said.

Friedman argued that earlier Supreme Court decisions foreclosed Bouchat’s claims.

“Mr. Bouchat’s complaint is within the precedent that this court is bound to follow,” he said.

Bouchat said it is his “thorough intent to file writ and get this before the Supreme Court.”

In the second case, two Baltimore County Democrats argue that District 44, in the southern part of the city, unconstitutionally crosses the city-county line.

Sen. Delores G. Kelly and Sen. James L. Brochin claim their districts are being squeezed and contorted by the decision to extend District 44 westward into the county. Kelly represents District 10, in the southwest corner of the county, while Brochin’s District 42 runs north from the city line through the middle of the county.

“They have cut my district down,” Kelly said after the argument.

Their attorney, Jonathan Shurberg, argued that under the Maryland Constitution, Article 3, Section 4, the map that ultimately gets approved must give due regard to political boundaries, including county lines.

Shurberg said that was not what occurred during the redistricting process.

“Did they comply with the constitution?” Shurberg said after the hearing. “I say they didn’t.”

Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, however, expressed discomfort with the idea of the court drawing a new map should a majority of the court strike down the present map. She questioned whether the court should be “in the business of drawing maps.”

Judge Lynne A. Battaglia said “there is some permissible crossing that can occur.”

Shurberg agreed, but said “it was not necessary to have this crossing.”

The argument may be the last one Shurberg makes for a while. On Nov. 10, Shurberg will be suspended for sixth months pursuant to an agreement he entered into with the Attorney Grievance Committee in September.

Voting Rights Act claim

In the third case, more than 20 Maryland residents, including Western Maryland Republicans and first-named petitioner Cynthia Houser, argued that the map breaks up Republican districts and minority districts, in violation of the constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.

Friedman argued that the creators of this map started with the 2002 map, which was constitutional on every level.

“On every criteria, the 2012 map exceeds the 2002 map … that is constitutional,” he said.

He said there were “lots of good reasons the map was drawn the way it was and it wasn’t for discriminatory purposes.”

Friedman declined to comment following the hearing.

On Tuesday, another redrawn legislative map — the one establishing federal congressional districts in Maryland — went to referendum as Question 5 on the statewide General Election ballot. Maryland voters approved the redrawn federal districts by a margin of nearly 2 to 1.