Supreme Court Orders Full Hearing of Common Cause Member’s Challenge to Maryland Redistricting

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  • dale eisman, scott swenson
Shapiro v. McManus Will Go Before Special Three-Judge Panel

Statement by Steve Shapiro, lead plaintiff

“I’m delighted that the Court has agreed that our challenge to the constitutionality of Maryland’s districts should be reviewed by a three-judge court. I’m optimistic that ultimately we will prevail on the merits and voters will not have their free speech rights muted because of their political beliefs. The Court should put limits on gerrymanders and the role of legislatures in unduly influencing the outcome of congressional elections.

“This decision puts residents of Maryland and other states within the 4th Circuit on the same legal footing as those who reside in other federal circuits when it comes to redistricting claims. Congress clearly intended that these cases should come before three-judge courts.”

Statement by Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director, Common Cause Maryland

“The court’s unanimous decision today is a victory for fair play in our politics and a testament to the power of a single, determined citizen to make a difference in our democracy.

“We still have a long way to go, but thanks to Steve Shapiro and the lawyers who took up his cause, there will be a full review by a three-judge court of the constitutionality of the congressional district boundaries drawn by then-Gov. O’Malley and the General Assembly after the 2010 census.

“Common Cause believes those districts were deliberately drawn for partisan and political purposes, not to give voters fair representation. We expect the courts ultimately will conclude that repressing the voice of voters is a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression.

“Partisan gerrymandering has become standard practice for Democrats and Republicans alike across the country, as whichever party holds a majority in each state legislature attempts to solidify its hold on power by manipulating district lines to favor its candidates. Common Cause supports the creation of independent redistricting commissions in the states to squeeze partisanship out of the redistricting process.”

Background: Steve Shapiro, a Common Cause Maryland member and a longtime federal employee, filed that case that became Shapiro v. McManus on his own behalf. Though not a lawyer, he represented himself when the case came before U.S. District Judge James K. Breder in Baltimore and later when it was before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

Judge Breder dismissed the case, concluding that the claim of partisan gerrymandering is not a matter for the courts to decide. While his decision was upheld by the 4th Circuit, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the suit should have been heard and decided on the merits by a special three-judge panel.

His pursuit of the case led Steve Shapiro to make a life-changing career decision. At age 55, he’s now enrolled at American University’s Washington College of Law.

Governor Hogan is expected to introduce legislation creating an independent redistricting commission for Maryland during the 2016 legislative session.