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Carroll man petitions U.S. Supreme Court to hear arguments on redistricting

After failing to get it overturned in the state, Woodbine resident Christopher Eric Bouchat may have the opportunity to challenge the constitutionality of the state's legislative redistricting plan in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bouchat has filed a petition, called a "writ of certiorari," to argue his position that Gov. Martin O'Malley's legislative redistricting plan is unconstitutional because it does not give equal representation to all counties. In November, Bouchat argued against the redistricting plan in front of the Maryland Court of Appeals. The state's highest court issued an order upholding the redistricting plan and denying Bouchat's and two others' arguments against it.

An order is a written instruction or direction given by a judge. An opinion, which the Court of Appeals has yet to file, is the official written statement of a case, the court's decision and its reasons for reaching the decision it did, according to Terri Bolling, deputy director of the Office of Communications and Public Affairs for the State of Maryland Judiciary.

Though the Court of Appeals has yet to file an opinion on the redistricting challenges, Bouchat plans to bring his argument to the U.S Supreme Court. Bouchat wants Maryland's bicameral legislature, which is a governing body with two separate chambers, to mirror the structure of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Currently, the state's 47 election districts, which cross county boundaries, are represented by 47 senators and 141 delegates.

Bouchat is asking the court to establish a new legislative body that includes having every county and Baltimore City be represented by two senators, all House members being elected in single-member districts, guaranteeing every county have one member in the House and having delegates be equally divided by the population.

"Whether you're on the state level or the federal level, you as a citizen have a right to have equal representation in your legislative institution," Bouchat said.

When he submitted the redistricting plan to the legislature in January 2012, O'Malley said the map directly reflected the demographics of the state and the population trends that have occurred over the past decade.

The governor's map, which was developed by a five-member advisory committee he appointed, "enhances minority voting rights, pays exceptional attention to respecting natural and political boundaries and results in districts that are compact, contiguous, and protects communities," according to a prepared release.

Carroll County residents are personally affected by disproportionate representation in the legislature, he said.

The legislative redistricting plan split Carroll County into three districts. Mount Airy and surrounding election precincts are now in a district that includes a large portion of Frederick County. Sykesville and the surrounding area of South Carroll was put into a district containing a large portion of Howard County. The Carroll County area north of those two districts remains in its own district.

Bouchat has argued that it will be very difficult to get representation in Carroll when someone from another county only has a small portion of Carroll to represent. Bouchat called the redistricting "egregious."

"The people in Carroll County that live in that small little section [of Mount Airy] have no way of ever electing someone from their community to one of those seats," he said. "Whoever gets elected to those seats can completely ignore them and not show up to any of the community meetings."

More than 10,000 cases are filed with the court during every nine-month term of the Supreme Court, according to the court's website. Four of the nine Supreme Court justices must vote to grant someone's petition in order for a case to be heard.

Once a petition is filed, it takes the court an average of six weeks to act on it, according to the court's website. Of those cases filed, approximately 100 are granted, reviewed, argued and decided by written opinion.

"I feel pretty confident about [getting heard by the U.S. Supreme Court]," said Bouchat, who owns a welding and metal fabrication business. "I wrote a really good writ that poses some really important questions for the court to review."

Bouchat said he has been practicing law since 1997, when he defended himself in his first divorce. Since his first case, Bouchat, who does not have a law degree, said he has defended himself and his ideas in numerous courts in Maryland.

"I am a welder by trade, a businessman by profession and a political activist by avocation," he said. "[Most attorneys] underestimate me going into court and I blow the doors off of them."

The writ, Bouchat said, has a strong emphasis on the Federalist Papers, which is a series of 85 essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay promoting the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. The Federalist Papers, he said, offer people an insight into the minds of our founding fathers.

"If I'm successful at this, this will radically change the structure of state legislative institutions nationwide," Bouchat said. "There needs to be a uniform application in how we're represented in state legislative institutions. It can't be contradictory across the nation. They need to be in compliance with the United States Constitution."

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