Lamone v. Benisek: Key Court Documents
Summary of Parties’ Arguments
In Lamone v. Benisek, Maryland Republican voters challenged Maryland’s 6th Congressional District as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The plaintiffs argue that Maryland violated their First Amendment rights when, in 2011, the legislature redrew the 6th Congressional District to increase Democrats’ share of the state’s eight congressional seats from six to seven.
The plaintiffs point out that, according to prominent Maryland Democrats, the intent of the 2011 plan was to redraw district lines in a manner that would give Democrats an additional congressional seat. In fact, the former governor admitted that he aimed to create an additional district for the Democrats by redrawing the Sixth Congressional District. Moreover, the plaintiffs argue that the Maryland plan concretely burdened their First Amendment rights in two ways. First, the new district plan diluted the votes of Republican voters who had previously been able to elect a representative of their choice. Second, the new plan burdens their associational right to organize politically. Finally, according to the plaintiffs, there is no alternative constitutionally permissible explanation for these burdens.
The plaintiffs point to concrete evidence of the burden on their First Amendment rights. No Republican candidate has been elected in the Sixth Congressional District since the 2011 redistricting, even though the district had been a Republican stronghold for nearly 20 years prior to redistricting. This, they argue, is evidence of vote dilution. Additionally, as evidence of the burden on their associational rights, the plaintiffs point to instances of organizers struggling to motivate community members to vote in the Sixth District and reports of former voters saying they no longer vote because they feel that the new districting scheme has rendered their vote worthless. Together, this illustrates an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander and a violation of First Amendment rights of Maryland voters.
“[A partisan gerrymander] inflicts concrete burdens on a particular group of citizens because government officials disapprove of those citizens’ voting histories and political-party affiliations. That is a violation of the First Amendment.” (22)
“First, it diluted plaintiffs’ votes, so much so that they and others who share their views have been unable to elect a representative of their choice. Second, it has manifestly burdened their associational activities, including by demonstrably depressing voter interest in congressional politics.” (23)
“Casting a ballot for one candidate or another is perhaps the most fundamental expression of a citizen’s political beliefs.” (27)
“[L]awmakers may not target particular groups of private citizens for disfavored treatment on the basis of those citizens’ political views, including past voting history. This has nothing to do with lawmakers’ advancing policies of general application that they and their supporters prefer but their political opponents do not.” (28)
“We proved beyond all doubt a specific intent to burden Republican voters according to established judicial standards. Democratic officials in 2011 disapproved of citizens’ successful support of Roscoe Bartlett and set out to dilute Republican votes and disrupt Republican organization to prevent his reelection, ensuring a 7-1 map.” (33)
Even the defendants in this case admit that extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional and that challenges to gerrymandered maps should be heard in the federal courts. Maryland argues simply that the redistricting scheme in this case is not so extreme that it reaches the level of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering present in other states. Moreover, the defendants claim that the lower court used an improper standard of review in granting summary judgement and that First Amendment context employed by the plaintiffs is the wrong framework for reviewing a partisan gerrymandering claim.
“Maryland recognizes that the problem of partisan gerrymandering poses a threat to democracy in the United States and that our courts have an important role, in both remedying existing unconstitutional gerrymanders and preventing future violations by providing clear guidance for legislatures and other districting bodies. This Court can and should determine a manageable standard, one that lower courts can apply to remedy abusive partisan gerrymanders such as those that entrench in power a political party whose adherents enjoy only minority support.” (26-27)
“This Court’s decisions reflect a consensus that excessive partisanship in districting is impermissible, although officials may use political considerations in crafting a districting plan.” (27)
Key Court Documents