November 21, 2011

Opponents of new congressional redistricting win first round in lawsuit

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U.S. District Court for Maryland seal

By Glynis Kazanjian
Glynis@MarylandReporter.com

U.S. District Court for Maryland sealThe federal judge overseeing the first round of legal arguments on the lawsuit challenging Maryland’s congressional redistricting quickly ruled Monday against the state’s motion to dismiss and assigned the case to a three-judge panel.

U.S. District Court Judge Roger W. Titus of Greenbelt ruled that he disagreed with the state’s argument that the suit should be dismissed because it was without merit.

“The Court finds that the Complaint’s constitutional claims are substantial and that the convening of a three-judge court is appropriate,” Titus stated in Monday’s opinion.

Titus also ruled that there was no legal precedence in the 4th Circuit, which includes Maryland, to give a single district judge the authority to make such a determination, as the state argued.

“Defendants [Maryland officials] contend that the single district court judge is called upon to test the substantive merit of the [Plaintiff’s] claims by applying the standard of review for a motion to dismiss . . . This Court disagrees,” Titus said.

However, Titus also stated while the case will move forward, a three-judge panel can also send the case back if it does not think a three-judge court is required.

“Insubstantiality in the claim may appear because of absence of federal jurisdiction, lack of substantive merit in the constitutional claim, or because injunctive relief is otherwise unavailable,” Titus wrote.

As a result, the state will get a second chance to argue its position, which focuses on a lack of specificity in the plaintiff’s claims.

The state of Maryland’s motion to dismiss cites four charges made by the plaintiffs which fail to “state a claim” for the charge, which include: violating Section II of the Voting Rights Act, intentional discrimination, racial discrimination in the charge of excluding 1,321 prisoners and partisan gerrymandering.

The state also argues that the “no representation without population” claim does not cause the maps to be unconstitutional and that because the plaintiff’s lawsuit is “insubstantial,” it will be disruptive to the pending election.

Finally, the state argues for dismissal because they say the plaintiffs “do not state a claim for relief that is plausible.”

Nine African-American Maryland citizens sued the state after Democratic Gov.  Martin O’Malley signed into law newly drawn congressional district lines, substantially changing the makeup of the 6th Congressional District now held by Republican Roscoe Bartlett.

The group claims their rights under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the U.S. Constitution were violated, specifically by diluting the strength of African-American voters and racially gerrymandering minorities.

The plaintiffs, represented by the Virginia based law firm Holtzman Vogel, have asked for injunctive relief prior to the April 3 primary elections.

“We are pleased the judge is going to allow the case to go forward and be heard by a three-judge panel,” said Jason Torchinksi, the plaintiff’s lead attorney, following the announcement.

The group that originally started legal efforts to fight the redistricting plan, Fannie Lou Hamer PAC, formally sat down last Thursday with the chief of voting section of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice to formally request an investigation of Maryland’s newly enacted congressional districts.

A spokesman for the plaintiffs said motions will be argued in December, and a trial is expected in January.