A federal judge has ordered Maryland’s top two legislative leaders to testify and turn over records for a lawsuit challenging the 2011 redrawing of the state’s congressional districts, which effectively ensured Democratic control of seven out of eight U.S. House seats.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) have fought efforts to examine their intentions during the redistricting process, claiming that “legislative privilege” protects them from records requests and litigation related to internal deliberations.
But U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar ruled Tuesday that the ability to discover evidence “lies at the heart of this case” and that the legislature’s direct role in the redistricting process “supports overcoming the legislative privilege.” Bredar wrote that the protections Miller and Busch had claimed do not apply in certain types of federal lawsuits, particularly those that don’t involve financial liability.
His order also applies to a number of other current and past state officials who have received subpoenas, including Jeanne D. Hitchcock, who chaired the state’s redistricting commission and was former Democratic governor Martin O’Malley’s appointments secretary; former commission member Richard Stewart; and state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery).
The plaintiffs are Maryland residents who have asked the court to block the state Board of Elections from enforcing the voting map, which they consider to be gerrymandered, or manipulated in favor of one political party.
“What we were seeking in the motion was an opportunity to ask these people questions,” said their attorney, Michael B. Kimberly. “And we’re pleased we’re going to have that opportunity.”
The offices of Miller, Busch and state Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), whose agency has defended state officials involved in the case, declined to comment on the decision.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has proposed overhauling the redistricting process for the past two years, returned to the topic during his State of the State address on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to pass legislation that would create a nonpartisan commission to draw the state’s voting boundaries instead of leaving it to elected officials.
Democrats, who hold strong majorities in the legislature, have resisted such efforts, saying that redistricting changes should apply to all states, including those that are widely considered to be gerrymandered in favor of Republicans.
Miller said Wednesday that the Senate “will pass a bill this year that lumps states together” for redistricting purposes. He did not provide specifics.
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer declined to comment on the lawsuit but said the governor believes that “voters should choose their elected officials, not the other way around.”
The lawsuit focuses on Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, which covers a large swath of Montgomery County, then meanders north to the Pennsylvania line and west to West Virginia. It alleges that state officials drew those lines to help unseat then-Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R), a 10-term incumbent who lost to Democrat John Delaney in 2012.
The plaintiffs, some of whom were moved from the 6th District to the 8th District when the lines were redrawn, claim that the new boundaries violate their First Amendment rights by subjecting them to disfavored treatment because of their voting preferences.
Bredar threw out the case in 2014, but the Supreme Court later ruled that the matter should have gone before the District Court’s three-judge panel. Last year, the panel decided 2 to 1 that the lawsuit could go forward.
Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.