Seen and heard on redistricting reform

Last month the Supreme Court heard oral argument (transcript) in Benisek v. Lamone, the challenge to Maryland’s gerrymandered Sixth District. I was there with some critics of the gerrymander in front of the Court steps and spoke to a number of reporters afterward [Danielle Gaines, Frederick News-Post; Bruce DePuyt, Maryland Matters] See also Eric Boehm, Reason. Earlier here. Background links on Maryland case: Cynthia Prairie, Maryland Reporter in January.

I was interviewed by reporter Tom Fitzgerald for WTTG Fox 5 in front of the Court, and joined anchor/host Jason Newton and Goucher pollster Mileah Kromer on WBAL’s “TV Hill.” You can also listen through Facebook to my appearance on WFMD with Dave Schmidt and Darren Wigfield on redistricting

New audio contributions include a Cato Daily Podcast in which I’m interviewed by Caleb Brown, and a narrator’s reading for Cato’s “Cato Out Loud” feature of my recent piece on why libertarians and others should oppose gerrymandering:

Finally, I’m also in the question period a bit more than two-thirds through this Federalist Society program featuring former Rep. Chris Shays (R-Ct.) and Weekly Standard senior writer Jay Cost.

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Seat Pleasant tax sits unpleasantly on local business owners

Congratulations! You may not have realized it was happening, but your municipality has put you in a special revitalization zone which means the property taxes you owe them will quintuple. That’s the message some suburban Maryland business owners got recently, subject of my recent Cato piece. Excerpt:

Specialists in local and state government policy are full of ideas for business-by-business and location-by-location tinkering with tax rates, both downward (as part of incentive packages to lure relocating businesses) and upward (to finance special public services provided in some zones, such as downtown revitalization). But there is a distinct value in terms of both public legitimacy and the rule of law in having uniform and consistent taxation that does not depend on whether a property owner or business is on the ins or on the outs with the tax-setting authorities.

[cross-posted from Overlawyered]

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Baltimore bans new crude oil terminals

In the latest win for activists, Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh signed into law a new measure banning construction and expansion of crude oil terminals in the city. Previously Oakland, Calif. banned a terminal intended for coal exports, and Portland, Ore., and other West Coast cities have also moved to block fossil fuel infrastructure following environmentalist campaigns.

As individual controversies crop up in Maryland and elsewhere over particular natural gas terminals and pipelines, it’s worth remembering that for a well-organized body of activists, the goal is to block oil and gas infrastructure, period, and the individual complaints about one or another project (Baltimore activists claimed concern about safety) are makeweights to be invoked as needed.

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Senate bid to deny Trump ballot access in Maryland

My letter to the editor at the Frederick News-Post:

I have myself been critical of President Donald Trump’s refusal to divulge his tax returns, but the bill advanced in the Maryland Senate purporting to make that a requirement for the next presidential ballot in Maryland is partisanship at its most inane. [Sponsors] are here attempting to (1) impose a new qualification on presidential candidates not found in either the U.S. constitution or federal law; (2) do so by means of denying ballot access in their own state, which means by restricting the choices of their own electorate; and (3) do so with the open aim of opposing a single particular candidate.

We may pause for a moment to imagine how this sort of stunt could be pulled by other partisans against other candidates, should it catch on.

No wonder California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed a similar bill because of the obvious constitutional concerns.

Related: in U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (1994), a Supreme Court divided 5-4 held that Arkansas could not add to the qualifications for election to Congress enumerated in the Constitution by disqualifying candidates who had already served a set number of terms in office; it also specifically rejected the view that a restriction on ballot access does not act as a bar to office because it leaves open the possibility of running as a write-in.

Note also that the Arizona legislature in 2011, under the influence of “birther” sentiment, passed a measure requiring presidential candidates to provide proof of citizenship in order to get on the state’s ballot. Although natural born citizenship unlike the release of tax returns is of course a genuine constitutional prerequisite for serving as president, the interference with the appropriate distribution of federal-state power, as well as the intent to target one particular candidate, namely birther target and incumbent President Obama, was evident enough that conservative Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the measure. [cross-posted from Overlawyered]

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Baltimore City will pay to send 60 busloads of kids to anti-gun demo

Taxpayers will shell out $100,000 so the city of Baltimore can bus public school students to an anti-gun rally. And that’s only the start of what’s wrong here, I write in a new Cato post. “A protest outing that is ardently enabled or even meticulously organized by the authority figures in your life can be like the ninth-grade English course that ruins Macbeth or Moby Dick for you.” I quote Lynda C. Lambert in the Baltimore Sun: “Part of protesting is finding your own way, for your own reasons….. Government sponsorship is destructive to these ends.”

My parting shot: “As for the separate question of whether compulsory attendance and truancy laws should be enforced against students for skipping school in a favored cause, I’ll see and raise: don’t enforce those laws against anyone period.”  [cross-posted from Overlawyered]

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On gerrymandering: “…the gold standard for reform…”

“Our coalition considers the work of the Redistricting Commission [MRRC] to be the gold standard for reform.” — Tame the Gerrymander Coalition, on Facebook, on the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission (report). Thanks! The hearings this year, at which I testified, were Feb. 26 (House side) and March 1 (Senate).

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In miniature, February 18

  • Should landlords be legally obliged to provide voter registration materials to their tenants? [HB5, Del. J. Lewis; companion bill HB55, which would impose similar requirements on real estate agents and brokers, was reported unfavorably by Economic Matters]
  • Noteworthy Twitter thread on theft of rental cars has Maryland State Police angle [Noah Lehmann-Haupt]
  • An unwarranted curtailment of individual choice: bill sponsored by Del. Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard) would ban marriage by persons under 18 even with parent/guardian consent [HB 191]
  • “Dollar home” programs show mostly sparse results in urban revitalization, especially when regulatory strings come attached [Jared Alves, Greater Greater Washington on lessons for Baltimore]
  • Why Baltimore’s Civilian Review Board hasn’t done much to fix its police crisis [J.F. Meils, Maryland Reporter]
  • “Maryland Delegate Proposes Regional Pact To Keep Taxpayer Money from Financing Redskins’ Stadium” [Andrew Metcalf, Bethesda Magazine on Del. David Moon (D-Takoma Park) bill]

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Televise floor proceedings in Annapolis?

The legislative majority has already decided the answer is “no,” now to come up with a rationale [Len Lazarick, Maryland Reporter]

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“Is your child texting about partisan gerrymandering?…”

My bit of Twitter humor from the other day:

Is your child texting about partisan gerrymandering? Know the language:

IDC: Is district compact?
SMDH: Splitting more Dem households
OMG: Omigod, Maryland’s gerrymandered
HBD: Hilariously bad district
LOL: Less outrageous lines
OMW: Our map wins
FFS: Friend/foe spread

On a more serious note, I’m visible in this photo of Gov. Hogan’s press conference last month on redistricting reform:

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My Oprah Winfrey Show reminiscence

My recollection of what it was like to be a guest on the Oprah Winfrey talk show early in my career has appeared in the Frederick News-Post.

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