Maryland Republicans take electoral map
fight to U.S. high court
Send a link to a friend
[March 23, 2018]
By Lawrence Hurley
THURMONT, Md. (Reuters) - When Maryland
Democrats drew new U.S. House of Representatives district maps in 2011,
long-time Republican voter Bill Eyler found himself removed from a
conservative rural district and inserted into a liberal one encompassing
Eyler, a retired business owner in the small town of Thurmont roughly 55
miles north of the U.S. capital, said he thinks he and others like him
were being targeted by the Democrats because of their party affiliation.
He was inserted into a Democratic-leaning congressional district in an
electoral map that diminished the statewide clout of Republican voters.
"There's nothing we can do or say or vote that will make any
difference," Eyler said in an interview.
Eyler is one of nine Republican voters who pursued a legal challenge
against a portion of Maryland's electoral map. Their closely watched
case will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.
It is one of two major cases the nine justices are tackling during their
current term concerning a practice called partisan gerrymandering in
which a state's majority party redraws legislative districts with the
intent of tightening its grip on power. The justices on Oct. 3 heard a
challenge by Democratic voters to Wisconsin's Republican-drawn electoral
The question in both cases is whether redrawing electoral maps for
extreme partisan advantage may violate the constitutional rights of
voters. The rulings, due by the end of June, could change the U.S.
political landscape, either by slapping limits on partisan
gerrymandering or by allowing it even in its most extreme forms.
While Maryland leans Democratic, it still has its fair share of
Republicans and has a Republican governor. Even some Democrats admit
Maryland's electoral map was intended to make it harder for Republicans
to win a House seat from the state's Sixth District. Eyler voted in that
district until new electoral boundaries placed him in the heavily
Democratic Eighth District, where his vote may have little impact.
Eyler, 69, has lived in Thurmont, in Maryland's Frederick County, for
most of his life and resents the notion that distinct cultural and
ethnic communities can be torn apart at the whim of politicians in the
state capital seeking to maximize their party's election prospects.
His House district used to be held by Republican Representative Roscoe
Bartlett, who is now out of Congress. Thanks to the new boundaries that
reconfigured Bartlett's former district, Eyler's congressman now is
Democrat Jamie Raskin, who hails from the liberal haven of Takoma Park
on the border with Washington.
"The distance between upper Frederick County and Raskin can be measured
in light years," said Eyler, who along with his fellow plaintiffs is
appealing a lower court ruling upholding Maryland's map.
Gerrymandered electoral maps often concentrate voters who tend to favor
the minority party into a small number of districts to dilute their
statewide clout and distribute the rest of those voters in other
districts in numbers too small to be a majority.
[to top of second column]
A sign welcoming visitors to the town of Thurmont, is pictured in
Thurmont, Maryland, U.S., March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Lawrence Hurley
Maryland's redistricting plan added more Democratic voters to the
Sixth District from liberal Montgomery County and removed some
Republicans including Eyler. The proportion of registered
Republicans in that district dropped from 46.7 percent of eligible
voters to 33.3 percent and the number of registered Democrats
increased from 35.8 percent to 44.1 percent.
The plan led to Democrat John Delaney beating Bartlett to take the
district in 2012. At the time, Maryland had a Democratic-controlled
legislature and a Democratic governor, Martin O'Malley. Current
Republican Governor Larry Hogan filed a brief backing the
Despite Hogan's 2014 victory that illustrated Republican strength
statewide, Republicans currently hold just one of Maryland's eight
congressional seats because of the way the electoral boundaries are
The question before the Supreme Court is whether the map violated
the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of free speech.
The novel legal theory pushed by lawyer Michael Kimberly, a
registered Democrat who lives in Maryland, is that Republican voters
were retaliated against by Democrats based on their political views.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said in court papers that his
fellow Democrats had merely drawn a "newly competitive" district.
Frosh noted that in 2014, Delaney was almost defeated by his
"Maryland's 2011 congressional map gave neither major political
party a strong advantage in the Sixth District," Frosh wrote.
Legislative districts are redrawn nationwide every decade to reflect
population changes after the national census. Redistricting in most
states is done by the party in power, though some states in the
interest of fairness assign the task to independent commissions.
The Supreme Court for decades has been willing to invalidate state
electoral maps on the grounds of racial discrimination but never
those drawn simply for partisan advantage.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)
[© 2018 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2018 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Thompson Reuters is solely responsible for this content.