(CN) – A divided three-judge panel of federal judges on Thursday declined to throw out Maryland’s congressional voting map that challengers say was intentionally designed to give Democrats an electoral edge.
The 2-to-1 decision allows the state to maintain those voting boundaries for the 2018 election and puts the lawsuit on hold until after the Supreme Court has ruled in a similar partisan gerrymandering case from Wisconsin scheduled for October.
To act now could spell chaos, two of the judges held.
“Plaintiffs now seek injunctive relief [which], if ordered, would cause an unprecedented disruption in Maryland’s legislative and districting process. In granting it, the court would enjoin enforcement of a map that was duly enacted by the General Assembly of Maryland and that survived voter referendums by a large margin,” U.S. District Judge James Bredar wrote in an opinion joined by US District Judge George Russell.
Plaintiff’s O. John Benisek’s challenge hones in on the 6th Congressional District of Western Maryland. The district was redrawn so that parts of heavily Democratic Montgomery County were included.
Benisek, and the other plaintiffs who joined him in the challenge, contend that the redesign of district boundaries violates their First Amendment rights and unfairly weeds out Republican voters in the area.
U.S. Circuit Judge Paul Niemeyer split the three-judge panel.
Judge Niemeyer, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, said that he would have forced Maryland lawmakers to redraw the boundaries and would have done so without the help of historical voter records.
Overall, he asserted, the majority missed the glaringly “obvious” intent of Democrats eager to push Republican voters out.
“Its entire reason for denying the injunction rests on a bizarre notion of causation that requires the exclusion of all possible alternative explanations, however remote and speculative. When that effort inevitably fails, it concludes that causation has not been established, despite extraordinary evidence of the connection between intent and effect,” he wrote. “I believe that the record could not be clearer that the mapmakers specifically intended to dilute the effective of the Republican voters in the Sixth Congressional District and that the actual dilution that they accomplished was caused by their intent.”
Attorney Michael Kimberly is expected to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court has yet to rally behind a single, clear standard for evaluating gerrymandering violations but has frequently ruled against plans which effectively silence minorities.