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Supreme Court ruling boosts Woodbine man's challenge on Md. redistricting

Supreme Court ruling boosts Woodbine man's challenge on Md. redistricting
- Original Credit: (HANDOUT)

A December decision by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding legislative redistricting has had a direct effect on one Carroll County man.

Christopher Eric Bouchat sued the state of Maryland in August over what he described as redistricting practices that are "clearly designed with the intent to manipulate election results, are discriminatory against the non-dominant political party and violate my guaranteed constitutional voting rights."

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Because of the court's Dec. 8 decision in Shapiro v. McManus, which mandated that a "district court of three judges shall be convened ... when an action is filed challenging the constitutionality of the apportionment of congressional districts," Bouchat could see his case, if it is determined to meet the standards described by the court, sent before a panel of U.S. District Court judges.

It's not the first time the Woodbine resident, who ran unsuccessfully for state delegate in 2014 and for Carroll County commissioner in 2010 and 2006 among other campaigns for elected office, has taken his fight against the state's legislative redistricting to court, but it is the farthest his case has gotten.

In 2012, Bouchat filed a similar lawsuit that was thrown out by the Maryland Court of Appeals. Another lawsuit, filed earlier in 2015 in Carroll County Circuit Court was dismissed after the judge determined that the court did not have jurisdiction over the matter.

"What's been taking place in the state of Maryland is an injustice," Bouchat said.

In February 2012, the state adopted new legislative districts aimed at enhancing minority voting rights and paying close attention to respecting "natural and political boundaries," according to a 2011 news release from the Maryland Department of Planning.

As part of the changes to Maryland's legislative map, Carroll County, which used to be split between three Carroll-only districts, was divided into three amended districts, two of which included only a small portion of Carroll County and large portions of neighboring Frederick and Howard counties.

In his lawsuit, Bouchat alleges that the dividing of Carroll County into majority-Frederick County and majority-Howard County districts effectively denies representation to Carroll residents living in those districts.

As evidence, Bouchat points to his 2014 run for a seat in Maryland House of Delegates District 9A, a constituency comprising about half of Howard County's land mass and a portion of the southernmost part of Carroll County.

Despite receiving the highest number of votes from Carroll County voters, Bouchat lost in the Republican primary election to eventual general election winners Trent Kittleman and Warren Miller, both of whom reside in Howard County.

"The citizens of Carroll County don't want to vote for someone who lives in a different county," Bouchat said. "If you live in Carroll County, you want someone who shares the same school district, shares the same roads, shares the same court system."

The attorney general's office, which is serving as legal counsel for the state and did not want to comment on a pending case, withdrew its opposition to the convening of a panel to hear the case on Dec. 21, according to electronic court records.

If the district judge assigned to the case, Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander, now determines the case meets the standards described by the Supreme Court, the case will be sent to Catherine C. Blake, chief judge for U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, who will then assemble a panel to hear the case.

Although his past attempts at challenging the redistricting have not been met with success, this time, the situation is different, Bouchat said.

"I feel comfortable I can win this case," he said.

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