Judicial Watch Sues Maryland for Gerrymandered Congressional Districts – Voters Challenge Unconstitutional Plan
Although everything seems to slow down during the holidays, we have been busy on your behalf.
We just filed a lawsuit for 12 Maryland voters who object to a 2021 congressional redistricting plan because it diminishes their rights to participate in elections equally with other voters in violation of the state’s Constitution. (We are assisted by William J. Holtzinger, Esq., of Frederick, Maryland.)
Our new lawsuit (Parrott et al. v Lamone et al. (No. 8683397)) details:
Maryland’s recent history of partisan gerrymandering is no secret. [Its 2011] congressional district map … remains one of the most notorious partisan gerrymanders in U.S. history. A federal district judge openly doubted that it could provide “fair and effective representation for all citizens.” Another called it “absurd” to suggest ‘that there is a community of interest” in a district described as a “Rorschach-like eyesore.” [A federal appeals court] famously described the same district as “a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.”
The lawsuit relates that a bipartisan commission recommended a map to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan on November 5 that he approved, but the legislature passed a different proposal in a straight party-line vote. On December 9, 2021, Hogan vetoed this proposal, and, the same day, the state legislature overrode his veto on another party-line vote.
Our suit points out that the new map “is similar to the gerrymandered map that was the subject of universal abuse ten years ago as the worst gerrymander in the country.” The lawsuit details how the map distorts district lines, deviates from and crosses existing political boundaries, and fractures and divides communities of interest:
Maryland’s Plan splits Anne Arundel County into three congressional districts. The middle of Anne Arundel County is … connected to the Eastern Shore’s First Congressional District. The two areas are held together solely via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge…. Baltimore is divided among three congressional districts…. Montgomery County is divided among four congressional districts…. A roughly 20-mile trip north on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway from Cheverly, Maryland, a DC suburb, to Jessup, Maryland, an area outside [BWI] Airport, would cross congressional boundaries six times and lead a traveler through five different congressional districts.
The lawsuit highlights how Maryland’s Fifth District features an “umbilical cord” designed to include Democratic voters in College Park to “counterbalance” the more Republican voters in the southern part of the state. And the Sixth Congressional District connects Garrett County, “the westernmost rural county which borders Pennsylvania and West Virginia,” with Potomac, Maryland, a wealthy DC suburb:
As a federal court commented about the Sixth District in 2011, which made a similar linkage between these populations, it brings together voters “who have an interest in farming, mining, tourism, paper production, and the hunting of bears … with voters who abhor the hunting of bears and do not know what a coal mine or paper mill even looks like.” These two groups have “different climate[s], root for different sports teams, and read different newspapers.”
Outside experts agree that the plan is flawed, with the nonpartisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project giving it a grade of “F” for fairness and geographic compactness. In 2020, Republicans accounted for approximately 35% of Maryland’s Congressional votes, but they’re unlikely to win even a single seat under this plan. This outcome wouldn’t be possible without political gerrymandering.
We argue that the plan violates Article 7 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, which guarantees voters the right to “free and frequent” elections and the “right of suffrage.” Article 7 has been held to be “even more protective of rights of political participation than the provisions of the federal Constitution.”
Additionally, the plan violates Article III, Section 4 of the Maryland Constitution, which provides that, “Each legislative district shall consist of adjoining territory, be compact in form, and of substantially equal population. Due regard shall be given to natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions.”
Unfortunately, Democrats in the legislature went beyond politics to abuse of power in setting up Maryland’s gerrymandered congressional maps. This lawsuit seeks to protect the rights of all voters and citizens. Simply put: politicians shouldn’t get to pick their voters.
The corrupt acts of Obama holdovers against President Trump were some of the worst corruption cases in American history.
So it was nice to see U.S. Court of Appeals for District of Columbia Circuit order a lower court to directly review records withheld by the Justice Department about former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates related to her outrageous 2017 refusal to enforce President Donald Trump’s travel ban executive order (Judicial Watch vs. U.S. Department of Justice(No. 20-5304)).
The appellate court reversed a lower court ruling that the Justice Department could withhold certain records under the Freedom of Information Act’s Exemption 5 “deliberative process privilege,” which can be used to keep secret “pre-decisional” agency records. The appeals court ordered the lower court to directly review the records at issue in camera to determine if they qualify for withholding as “deliberative.”
We appealed the district court’s ruling on February 11, 2021. At issue are four records described as “working drafts” of a January 30, 2017, statement by Yates instructing DOJ officials not to defend the executive order issued by then-President Trump. Trump fired Yates for insubordination after she issued the one-page statement. The “working drafts” were sent as attachments in a chain of emails sent without messages between Yates and her deputy Matthew Axelrod.
We filed a May 2017 FOIA lawsuit after the DOJ failed to respond to a February 2017 FOIA request seeking Yates’ emails from her government account (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice (No. 1:17-cv-00832)) for the time period she served as Acting Attorney General for President Trump.
In our appeal, we highlighted how the Justice Department was undermining the FOIA reforms passed into law Congress under the FOIA Improvements Act in 2016 that “established a new, heightened standard of proof that agencies must meet when making discretionary withholdings of records requested under FOIA. Congress intended the FIA to shore up FOIA, not preserve a years-long, unsatisfactory status quo of ‘withhold-it-because-you-want-to’ exemptions and ‘knee-jerk secrecy.’”
The appeals court ruled the Justice Department “failed to satisfy its burden” to demonstrate that the Yates attachments “are deliberative” and reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment:
Because the district court chose to rely on the government’s declarations, and because we expect the attachments are relatively brief, we remand with instructions to review the attachments in camera and determine, consistent with the principles set forth herein, whether they qualify as deliberative. Should the district court conclude that the attachments are deliberative, it must then determine, consistent with the principles set forth in Reporters Committee, whether DOJ also satisfied its burden under the FOIA Improvement Act. 3 F.4th at 369-72.
This appeals court decision is a victory for transparency in the face of the Justice Department’s casual contempt for transparency. In an act of seditious and unethical conduct, Obama holdover Sally Yates sought to subvert then-President Trump by interfering with his lawful travel ban. That the Justice Department would try to cover up the details of this lawlessness is yet another scandal.
A few days before New Year’s Day 1777, General George Washington led his men across the icy Delaware River through hail, snow and sleet to attack the British. This daring feat boosted the morale of not only his army but of colonists in general.
The army’s failures to this point had many worried that the fledgling nation would not endure. The Declaration of Independence was only six months old. Washington knew that something had to be done, and he did it.
“Courage is contagious,” the evangelist Billy Graham said. “When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”
As we cross over into a new year, with chilling winds all about, we are called to press on with courage. And you can be sure Judicial Watch will.
And on behalf of my colleagues and I wish you a safe, prosperous and Happy New Year!
Until next week…