WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has revived a challenge by some Maryland residents to their state's 2011 redrawing of its congressional districts, ruling unanimously Tuesday that the case was thrown out prematurely.
The court said federal law requires that the Maryland case be heard by a panel of three judges, not the lone judge who dismissed the challenge. Writing in an eight-page opinion for the court, Justice Antonin Scalia said the law "could not be clearer."
The group of three residents originally sued in 2013 arguing that the new district map, which enabled Democrats to pick up an additional seat in Congress, was irrational and violated their First Amendment and other rights.
The justices did not address the substance of the complaint Tuesday, ruling only that a three-judge panel must consider it. In summarizing the case, Scalia wrote that the residents sued because they were "dissatisfied with the crazy-quilt results" of the redistricting. Scalia said the case "easily clears" the "low bar" to be referred to a three-judge panel.
"Perhaps petitioners will ultimately fail on the merits of their suit," Scalia wrote, but he added that federal law "entitles them to make their case before a three-judge district court."
Stephen Shapiro, a Democrat from Maryland who spearheaded the lawsuit on behalf of himself and two Republicans, said he was a little surprised that the court ruled so quickly, about a month after hearing the case, and called the ruling "gratifying."
"It's still just in the process of sinking in," said Shapiro, a 55-year-old law student at American University in Washington.
Michael Kimberly, the lawyer who argued the case on behalf of the residents, said he expects the state of Maryland will now ask the three-judge panel to dismiss the case. An oral argument before the three-judge panel could take place in the early summer, Kimberly said.
Kimberly said now that the case is moving forward he is looking to add more plaintiffs, particularly Republicans who were shifted into Democratic districts and have changed their registration to become Democrats, in order to participate in Maryland's closed primaries and have their vote matter. Before the 2011 redistricting, the state's eight seats were held by six Democrats and two Republicans. Afterward, Democrats hold seven seats and Republicans only one.
"We have three great plaintiffs, but the more the merrier," Kimberly said.
David Nitkin, a spokesman for the Maryland Attorney General, whose office is defending the state's maps, said in a statement that the ruling provided "clarity on the procedure to be followed in redistricting challenges" and that the office will "continue to fulfill our obligation to provide representation in support of the approved district maps."
After the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case in November, Steven Sullivan, the lawyer who argued the case for the state, said even if the Supreme Court agreed that the case was entitled to a three-judge panel he would "predict it would have a hard time" winning there.
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