A Carroll County judge dismissed a case that sought to challenge the state's legislative redistricting that went into effect in 2012.
During a hearing Friday, Circuit Court Judge Fred Hecker ruled in favor of Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Darsie's motion to dismiss on the grounds that the circuit court does not have jurisdiction over such matters.
The plaintiff, Christopher Eric Bouchat, of Woodbine, had argued that the 2012 redistricting disenfranchised the voting rights of those residing in the minority county of a legislative district that crosses county lines. In 2014, Bouchat ran for a seat in the House of Delegate in District 9A, which is composed of a small portion of Carroll County and a large part of Howard County, and he received the most votes in Carroll among all candidates but the fewest in Howard.
Hecker cited a previous ruling by the Court of Appeals of Maryland in defense of his decision, which found that the Circuit Court in Cecil County that had ruled on a redistricting matter was not the proper venue for such challenges.
"I'm not basing my decision on anything other than jurisdiction," he said. "I might be inclined to move this case forward, but it's not this court's jurisdiction."
Hecker said the Maryland Constitution appoints circuit courts with jurisdiction on all matters concerning its citizens unless an issue is specifically assigned to a particular court. In this instance, he said, the responsibility of hearing cases concerning legislative redistricting is explicitly the jurisdiction of the appellate court.
The appellate court has jurisdiction in these matters in order to expedite them, Hecker said. These decisions usually need to be determined relatively quickly, he said.
Darsie's motion included several reasons the case should not be tried — including that the case was filed after a delay and it was a retrial of a lawsuit Bouchat filed in 2012 — but during the hearing focused primarily on the court's jurisdiction.
Hecker asked Bouchat several questions relating to these other reasons. Hecker noted that in Bouchat's response to Darsie's motion, he conceded that the arguments he made in the 2012 lawsuit are identical to what he is arguing in this case.
Bouchat said that in his 2012 lawsuit, he was arguing against the redistricting in theory, while in this case he is speaking as an individual and a resident of Carroll County who has had his voting rights violated. This gives the circuit court jurisdiction, he said.
Darsie said that no matter how Bouchat couched his argument, this lawsuit is clearly a challenge to redistricting.
Because Hecker did not rule in his favor, Bouchat said he cannot get a hearing before any other court, meaning legislators in Annapolis would have to take up his fight.
"I think the court has sent a very clear message to any future citizen not to challenge what I believe to be a corrupt system of state legislative representation," Bouchat said. "This will require a long-term political endeavor through the political process by way of holding public office to eventually amend the state constitution."
Bouchat said that while he is disappointed with Hecker's decision, he will continue in his role as a Republican activist and will possibly seek political office in 2018.