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Local man's redistricting lawsuit dismissed

January 21, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

The legal landscape for Maryland’s recent congressional redistricting has become clearer with the dismissal of two more lawsuits, including one filed by a Washington County man.

Still, challenges to the plan remain alive. The plaintiffs in one case filed a notice of appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, The Associated Press reported.

Every 10 years, states readjust their congressional and legislative boundaries based on new population data gathered through the U.S. Census.

In October, a Democratic-majority Maryland General Assembly approved new boundaries for the state’s eight congressional districts. The 6th District in Western Maryland was reconfigured to take in more of Montgomery County, making it easier for a Democrat to unseat 10-term Republican incumbent Roscoe G. Bartlett.

A group of residents backed by the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, the Maryland Republican Party and others filed a lawsuit against the plan.

A panel of three judges dismissed the lawsuit in December.

The Associated Press reported Friday that the plaintiffs have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider part of their argument, challenging Maryland’s law that counts prisoners in the communities where they are from, not the prisons where they are confined.

Bartlett has helped the group raise money for its court case.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. dismissed a redistricting lawsuit filed by Howard Gorrell, who lives near Smithsburg.

Gorrell had argued that the new plan unconstitutionally separated farmers, which are “a community of interest,” and that the state was gerrymandered, meaning boundaries were manipulated for or against a particular group, usually a political party.

He also challenged the process through which the plan was approved and argued that the new plan was overly strict in trying to equalize population in districts.

Quarles ruled against all of Gorrell’s points.

In his decision, Quarles wrote that “obvious communities of interest,” such as farmers, have been divided, but “preserving communities of interest ... is not a requirement.”

Asked about the judge’s decision, Gorrell wrote in an email that he was disappointed in the court procedure, not the ruling. He wrote that it took the U.S. Marshals Service more than five weeks to deliver a summons to the representatives for the state in the case. The delay in communication prevented him from filing an amended complaint after another redistricting case was decided, he wrote.

Gorrell wrote that he doesn’t expect to appeal the substance of the ruling because “there is no Maryland constitution, statute or guidelines on the congressional redistricting,” but he will investigate a possible appeal based on procedure.

Gorrell also wrote that he’d work with Del. Neil C. Parrott if he gets involved in a redistricting petition drive to put the new plan up for vote in a public referendum.

The Herald-Mail reported this month that Parrott has laid the groundwork for a possible petition drive on the congressional redistricting, if court challenges fail.

For now, it’s up to Tony Campbell of Towson, Md., to decide whether to launch a petition drive, unless others join in, Parrott has said.

Campbell met Parrott through the successful MdPetitions.com drive for a referendum on a new state law allowing in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants in Maryland.

Gorrell also wrote that he plans to testify in support of three bills Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County, filed on the legislative and congressional redistricting processes.

There have been a few other lawsuits over Maryland’s congressional redistricting.

One filed by Frederick County Commissioner C. Paul Smith, a Republican, was dismissed by the Maryland Court of Appeals on Jan. 10, according to Angelita Plemmer, a spokeswoman for the state’s court system.

Smith, a lawyer, filed the case on behalf of himself and five other Maryland residents.

A second similar case by the same plaintiffs is pending in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

A congressional redistricting challenge filed by Guy F. Martin Jr. also is pending, according to David Paulson, a spokesman for the Maryland attorney general’s office, which represents the state in court.

Martin argued that, based on the U.S. Constitution, Maryland should be entitled to 192 representatives in Congress, according to the state’s motion to dismiss.

Paulson wrote in an email that Martin’s initial lawsuit was dismissed, but he refiled it. That case is in U.S. District Court.

Meanwhile, the Maryland General Assembly now is considering Gov. Martin O’Malley’s plan for redrawing the state’s legislative boundaries.

The legislature has until the 45th day of the current session, or Feb. 24, to make changes to O’Malley’s plan or it automatically becomes law.

Del. Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick/Washington, said he still is working with the Fannie Lou Hamer PAC on an alternate legislative redistricting plan.

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