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SCOTUS hears gerrymandering case against Maryland Democrats

Photo: Olivier Douliery / Getty Images

The Supreme Court heard a legal challenge on Wednesday, arguing that a congressional district in Maryland was gerrymandered to favor Democrats — with an attorney claiming that the decision violated the First Amendment rights of Republican voters.

The big picture: In the spirited hour-long hearing, the justices appeared uncertain on how to rule and worried about the possibility that the court's credibility may be tarnished if it inserts itself into partisan squabbles over gerrymandering. In its history, the court has never struck down a voting map due to partisan gerrymandering.

The key takeaways:

  • Michael Kimberly, the attorney representing the Republicans, contended that Maryland's Democratic-controlled legislature “intentionally” drew the state's 6th congressional district in 2011 to boost their electoral advantage and cost a longtime GOP incumbent his seat. “They made it impossible [for opponents] to gain electoral success,” he said.
  • A majority of the Supreme Court justices indicated they may believe that what Maryland Democrats did was intentional. Justice Sonia Sotomayor highlighted "damning evidence" to that end, pointing to a deposition where then-Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, acknowledged that "it was also [his] intent" to create a district "where the people would be more likely to elect a Democrat than a Republican."
  • During the oral arguments, the justices acknowledged that some partisanship in redistricting is tolerable, but they repeatedly questioned how much is too much.

What's next: The court heard a similar case last October from Wisconsin where Democrats say the GOP-controlled state legislature gerrymandered the entire legislative map to maximize their majority. The decisions in both cases are expected by June.

Go deeper: Here's where the big redistricting court fights stand.

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