The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision Thursday that federal courts are not the place to resolve allegations of partisan gerrymandering. In this 2016 file photo, the U.S. Supreme Court building is seen at sunset in Washington.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision Thursday that federal courts are not the place to resolve allegations of partisan gerrymandering. In this 2016 file photo, the U.S. Supreme Court building is seen at sunset in Washington. (Jon Elswick / AP)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that federal courts are not the appropriate venue to resolve allegations of partisan gerrymandering — in response to a suit contending that Democrats in Maryland violated Republican voters’ constitutional rights while redrawing the state’s congressional maps following the 2010 census.

What does Thursday’s ruling mean for Maryland? Here are four takeaways.

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U.S. Supreme Court rules in Maryland case that courts have no role in deciding partisan gerrymandering

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that federal courts are not the appropriate venue to resolve allegations of partisan gerrymandering.

1) The state defaults to the status quo.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and government watchdog groups immediately vowed to renew their fight for an independent, nonpartisan commission to redraw Maryland’s maps.

The Democratic-controlled General Assembly, however, shrugged.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the issue needs to be addressed nationally. (Maryland Democrats have long argued that they will stop gerrymandering if their Republican counterparts in other states do so.)

“With this lawsuit over, I hope we can put the issue of the 2011 redistricting to rest and focus on the many pressing issues facing all Marylanders,” Miller said in a statement.

2) Conservatives on the Supreme Court helped Democrats in Maryland.

In a twist, the conservative justices on the Supreme Court ended up helping the liberal members of Maryland politics.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, and four other conservative justices concluded that “partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.”

The ruling means that Democrats in Maryland can continue drawing maps to their party’s advantage.

Roberts did give a hat tip to a proposed national legislative fix to gerrymandering introduced by U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, a Baltimore Democrat.

By contrast, Justice Elena Kagan, who was appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama, and her more progressive colleagues on the high court sided with complaints from Maryland’s Republicans.

In her dissent, Kagan pointed to top Democrats in Maryland, such as former Gov. Martin O’Malley and U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer of Southern Maryland, for criticism for their role in the state’s gerrymandering.

Hoyer, she noted, has described himself as a “serial gerrymanderer.”

3) The ruling could further entrench a partisan divide nationally.

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With neither party eager to give in, the ruling is likely to further entrench the political divide in the country, several analysts said.

Republicans are now free to press their partisan advantage in states they control, such as North Carolina, while Democrats can do the same in states like Maryland.

“This is a sad day for our democracy,” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said. “We urged the Supreme Court to adopt a nationwide standard that would prevent extreme partisan gerrymandering. The decision today instead prevents voters everywhere from challenging in federal court any redistricting map as excessively partisan.”

4) Will Maryland Democrats go for an 8-0 map?

Maryland’s congressional and state legislative maps will now be redrawn after the 2020 census.

In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1, Maryland’s eight-member U.S. House delegation was split 4-4 in 2000. It now has seven Democrats and one Republican.

After the 2010 Census, Democrats considered a map under which they could control all eight congressional seats, but rejected the idea. It would have required drawing a district that would jump across the Chesapeake Bay and connect the Eastern Shore to the Washington suburbs.

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