Md. lawmakers pass revised congressional reapportionment as appeal is filed

Bryan P. Sears//March 30, 2022

Md. lawmakers pass revised congressional reapportionment as appeal is filed

By Bryan P. Sears

//March 30, 2022

Amanda SubbaRao holds a sign calling for “Fair Maps” during a Dec. 8, 2021, rally in Annapolis. Maryland lawmakers, who produced the first congressional map drawn by Democrats to be struck down this redistricting cycle, approved a new map Wednesday — and also appealed a judge’s rejection of their initial effort. (AP File Photo/Brian Witte)

ANNAPOLIS — The General Assembly’s attempt to draw a constitutional congressional redistricting plan now heads to the governor and ultimately an Anne Arundel County courtroom.

Even as lawmakers took final action on their revised plan, attorneys for the legislature filed a notice of appeal to Friday’s court ruling that rejected their original congressional reapportionment map. Details of the appeal were not immediately available.

“Hypocrisy continues to reign supreme in the Maryland General Assembly,” said Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Fair Maps Maryland, an anti-gerrymandering group closely aligned with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. “On the same day they pass court-ordered new maps, they are still clawing with their fingernails to hold on to one of the most gerrymandered maps in the history of this country. Voter suppression is clearly a hard habit to kick.”

The legislature was under the gun of a Wednesday court-imposed deadline to pass a new map reapportioning the state’s eight congressional districts. The House, on a mostly party-line 94-41 vote, approved a plan Democratic leaders said was more compact and met many of Judge Lynne Battaglia’s criteria.

“This map is significantly more compact,” said Del Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery and House majority leader. “In fact, you can just tell that by looking at it with the naked eye.”

Luedtke said the map limits the crossing of jurisdictional boundaries and does not split municipalities other than Baltimore city.

Battaglia, in her 94-page decision Friday, ruled a map drawn by the Democrats was unconstitutional. In part, her ruling adopted a novel approach for reviewing congressional maps in that she held those districts to a compact and contiguous standard previously believed to only apply to state legislative districts. She also ruled that the maps represented a partisan gerrymander explicitly designed to minimize Republican voters in favor of Democratic voters.

Registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by a roughly 2-1 margin. The map struck down by Battaglia maintained a 7-1 advantage for Democrats in the eight districts. And the one district represented by Republican Rep. Andy Harris was made competitive.

Battaglia ordered new maps be drawn in accordance with the federal Voting Rights Act law and mindful of the other issues she raised. That map was to be completed by Wednesday for a hearing on Friday.

“As the judge added more criteria we had to meet, we can’t meet every possible criteria all at once,” said Luedtke. “So, the primary criterion in drawing this map in conformance not only with this decision but previous federal court decisions was meeting the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act, ensuring compactness and trying to limit the crossing of county and municipal boundaries.”

The Democratic Party has held seven of the congressional seats since 2012. Prior to the 2002 reapportionment, the eight seats were evenly split between the parties. That year, Democratic Former Gov. Parris Glendening, who now decries partisan redistricting, whittled that down to a 6-2 margin in favor of his own party.

Under the new map, the 1st Congressional District, currently represented by Rep. Andy Harris, the only Republican in the state delegation, was substantially overhauled. A map approved in January made Harris’ district slightly favorable to Democratic challenges by crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and picking up portions of Anne Arundel County that had more Democratic voters.

Harris’ district in the new map no longer crosses the Bay Bridge but instead connects to the western shore through Cecil and Harford counties into eastern Baltimore County.

The state’s two so-called Voting Rights Districts are almost entirely contained within Baltimore city and Prince George’s County.

Republicans were not persuaded.

“The maps are prettier but they still violate the constitution of Maryland,” said Del. Mark Fisher, R-Calvert County.

“You can put lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig,” said Del. Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore and Harford counties. “You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper and it still stinks.”

Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington and one of the plaintiffs in the challenge of the congressional maps, unsuccessfully attempted to amend the bill. His amendment would have replaced the maps with a plan drawn by a commission appointed last year by Hogan.

That effort fell to strict party-line voting.

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk where he can sign or veto it. The legislature can then move to override. The House and Senate passed the bill with comfortable veto-proof majorities.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the General Assembly filed notice that they are appealing Battaglia’s initial ruling even as the new plan makes its way to the judge. The bill passed Wednesday is contingent upon an unsuccessful appeal.


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