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Supreme Court weighs Republican challenge to Maryland electoral map

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday considers for the second time in recent months whether to rein in politicians who draw state electoral maps with the aim of entrenching their party in power in a case involving a Maryland congressional district.

The justices heard a similar case on Oct. 3 in which Democratic voters challenged state legislative district boundaries drawn by Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin, and have not yet issued a ruling. On Wednesday, they are set to hear an hour-long argument in a challenge by Republican voters to a U.S. House of Representatives district drawn by Maryland Democrats.

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Both cases center on a practice known as partisan gerrymandering that involves manipulating boundaries of legislative districts to benefit one party and diminish another. The Supreme Court for decades has been willing to invalidate state electoral maps due to racial discrimination but never those created just for partisan advantage.

The rulings in the Maryland and Wisconsin cases, due by the end of June, could alter the U.S. political landscape, either by imposing limits on partisan gerrymandering or by allowing it even in its most extreme forms.

The Republican voters sued Maryland after the Democratic-led legislature in 2011 redrew the boundaries of the state’s Sixth District in a way that removed Republican-leaning areas and added Democratic-leaning areas. Maryland’s map led to Democrat John Delaney beating incumbent Republican Roscoe Bartlett to take the district in 2012.

At the time, Maryland also had a Democratic governor, Martin O’Malley. Current Republican Governor Larry Hogan, whose election victory in 2014 illustrated his party’s strength statewide, filed a brief backing the challengers. Republicans currently hold just one of Maryland’s eight congressional seats because of the way the electoral boundaries are drawn.

The question before the Supreme Court is whether Maryland’s electoral map violated the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of free speech. The novel legal theory pursued by the challengers is that Republican voters were retaliated against by Democrats based on their political views.

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The Wisconsin challengers presented a different argument, that the Republican-drawn map violated the First Amendment right to freedom of expression and association and the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law because of the extent to which it marginalized Democratic voters.

 Gerrymandered electoral maps often concentrate voters who tend to favor the minority party into a small number of districts to dilute their statewide clout and distribute the rest of those voters in other districts in numbers too small to be a majority.
Legislative districts are redrawn nationwide every decade to reflect population changes after the national census. Redistricting in most states is done by the party in power, though some states in the interest of fairness assign the task to independent commissions.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham

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Donald Trump’s lurch toward fascism is backfiring spectacularly

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Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.

During the 2016 campaign, as Donald Trump railed against "Mexican rapists" and other "criminal aliens," pollsters found that the share of Americans who said that immigrants worked hard and made a positive contribution to our society increased significantly, and noticed a similar decline in the share who said they take citizens' jobs and burden our social safety net. After Trump was elected and began pursuing his Muslim ban, the share of respondents who held a positive view of Islam also increased pretty dramatically. I'm not aware of any polling of the general public about transgender troops serving in the military before Trump decided to discharge them, but Gallup found that 71 percent of respondents opposed his position after he did.

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Judge blocking release of Jeffrey Epstein records has ties to officials linked to Epstein: report

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On Saturday, the Miami Herald reported that a judge who blocked the release of grand jury material in the Jeffrey Epstein child sex abuse case has ties to three officials with a vested interest in the outcome of the lawsuits surrounding the scandal.

"Krista Marx, the Palm Beach chief judge who also heads a panel that polices judicial conduct, has potential conflicts of interest involving three prominent players embroiled in the Epstein sex-trafficking saga: State Attorney Dave Aronberg, who has been sued by the Palm Beach Post to release the grand jury records; Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, whose department’s favored treatment of Epstein while he was in the Palm Beach County jail is part of an ongoing state criminal investigation; and ex-State Attorney Barry Krischer, part of the same investigation in connection with his decision not to prosecute Epstein on child-sex charges," wrote Julie Brown, a reporter who has extensively covered the Epstein case.

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WATCH: Buffalo cops and firefighters cheer officers charged with assault as they leave the courthouse

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According to a report from both CNN and MSNBC, the two Buffalo police officers who were charged with second-degree assault after shoving a 75-year-old anti-police brutality protester to the ground where he sustained head injuries were greeted with applause after they were arraigned on Saturday morning.

MSNBC's Alex Witt noted that both officers were released without having to post bail.

According to ABC News, "Officers Aaron Torglaski and Robert McCabe were charged with second-degree assault during their video arraignments on Saturday and were released on their own recognizance. They both entered no guilty pleas and are expected back in court on July 20."

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