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Md. high court tosses PG County Council’s redistricting map

The controversial redistricting map developed by the Prince George’s County Council will not go into effect following a decision from Maryland’s Court of Appeals Monday.

In a brief order, Maryland’s top court upheld a circuit judge’s ruling that blocked the council’s map and instead ordered the county to implement one drawn up by an independent commission.

The court heard arguments last week over the plan, which was challenged after the county council passed its own redistricting map by simple resolution instead of treating it as a law. By approving the map as a resolution, the council avoided a potential veto from the county executive.

A group of county residents argued that the council had to pass a law in order to adopt its own plan over one provided by an independent redistricting commission.

“This was the right decision,” said Matthew G. Sawyer, a lawyer for the county residents who opposed the map. “The council didn’t want to listen, but the people made their voices heard.”

Timothy F. Maloney, another lawyer for the residents, told the Court of Appeals last week that by passing the map as a resolution, the county council was trying to evade checks and balances in the form of an executive veto or a referendum by voters, which is used in some counties where the redistricting plan is exempt from a veto.

In an emailed statement, Maloney said Monday that “the Court’s order insures there will be checks and balances in the county redistricting process, including executive veto. This is especially important when the Council discards the plan of the independent redistricting commission, as they did here. Without it, there would be no meaningful protection against the Council’s obvious self-interest when they draw their own district lines.”

The county’s lawyers argued that a 2012 charter amendment empowered the council to pass a redistricting plan by resolution.

The 2012 change makes it clear it doesn’t have to be a bill but a resolution,” attorney Rosalyn E. Pugh said. Pugh could not immediately be reached for comment after the ruling.

Prince George’s County Council Chair Calvin S. Hawkins II released a statement late Monday:

“While we will comply with the Maryland Court of Appeals decision, the Prince George’s County Council appealed the lower court’s ruling because Ballot Question A was overwhelmingly approved by the voters of Prince George’s County in 2012.  Under the Council’s interpretation, the approval of this ballot initiative gave the Council authority to adopt the 2021 Redistricting Plan through Council Resolution, after notice to the public and a public hearing.”

The County Redistricting Commission submitted its new map to the council on Sept. 1, after having held 13 public sessions and reviewing its submission in light of Maryland law, the federal Voting Rights Act and U.S. Supreme Court precedent, according to court papers.

The council introduced its own plan in October and adopted it by a resolution the following month on a 6-3 vote. Maloney noted during last week’s argument that the council would have needed eight votes to override a veto from the county executive.

The council’s plan drew fire from community members who said that map clearly favored incumbents and divided the historically Black community of Vansville into two council districts.