Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Maryland AG urges state’s top court to dismiss redistricting challenges

Del. Mark Fisher, a Calvert County Republican, points to a the new district he now finds himself in under the state’s new legislative reapportionment. Fisher is among the GOP lawmakers who have filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the redistricting plans passed by Democrats in the General Assembly. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Maryland’s attorney general is asking the state’s highest court to dismiss four lawsuits challenging the legality of a recently passed legislative redistricting plan. 

Two separate groups of Republican lawmakers filed interlocking challenges to the plan last week. Additionally, two individuals filed separate challenges to districts in Anne Arundel and Washington Counties. 

The Office of the Attorney General, which is defending the plan for the Maryland General Assembly, urges the court to dismiss the challenges. 

In the first lawsuit, Dels. Mark Fisher, Nic Kipke, and Kathy Szeliga claim 13 districts in the plan violate the Maryland Constitution. 

Their 19-page filing argues that the districts — 7, 9, 12, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27, 31, 33, 42 and 47 — are invalid “because they are not contiguous or compact and/or do not give due regard to natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions.” 

The delegates also said that the new districts violate free speech protections by diminishing the voices of Republican voters. 

In the motion to dismiss, the legislature’s attorneys argue that the Court of Appeals has routinely followed decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation’s highest court has found that political gerrymandering may be reviewable but has never determined a process for making those judgments. 

Similarly, the Supreme Court has rejected previous First Amendment claims that partisan redistricting violates free speech protections. 

“Nothing in the petition suggests that this Court should depart ‘from the general rule’ that the Supreme Court’s rejection of the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause challenges to partisan gerrymandering,” the attorneys argue. 

A second lawsuit, filed by Republican Dels. Brenda Thiam, Wayne Hartman and Patricia Shoemaker, builds on the challenge filed by Fisher, Kipke and Szeliga. It also calls on the court to strike down the map because of its mixed use of single- and multi-member House districts. 

Thiam is from Hagerstown. Hartman represents a district on the Eastern Shore. Shoemaker is the wife of Republican Del. Haven Shoemaker. 

The Office of the Attorney General asked for the suit to be dismissed “because its allegations, even if assumed to be true, do not state any valid basis on which the court could conclude that Maryland’s 2022 legislative districting plan is not consistent with constitutional and other applicable requirements.” 

David Whitney, an Anne Arundel County resident, challenged a district that includes the Broadneck Peninsula. The lawsuit does not name a district. Whitney describes one that extends Anne Arundel County to the Eastern Shore. The land masses in the district described are connected only by the Bay Bridge. 

“No district meeting that description is found in the state legislative plan that is subject to this court’s order of January 28,” the state’s lawyers write in their response. 

The attorneys argued that Whitney has confused a congressional district in a different plan with state legislative redistricting. 

“Because this court lacks original jurisdiction to hear a challenge to congressional redistricting, the petition should be dismissed.” 

In a fourth lawsuit, Seth Wilson challenged a district that includes Hagerstown. 

Wilson, the president of the Washington County Republican Central Committee, has unsuccessfully run for the House of Delegates. He alleges the new western Maryland districts violate the state constitution because District 2A was drawn as a two-delegate district without a compelling reason. 

Lawyers for the state, in arguing for a dismissal, said Wilson’s challenge does not present “any valid basis on which the court could conclude that Maryland’s 2022 legislative districting plan is not consistent with constitutional and other applicable requirements.” 

Last week, the court ordered delays for key filing deadlines leading to the 2022 primary. 

A scheduling hearing before retired Court of Appeals Judge Alan M. Wilner who is acting as special master for the cases is set for Thursday morning.