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General Assembly redistricting challenges argued at top court

2010 CensusExecutive BranchJustice SystemRepublican PartyDemocratic Party

Lawyers for the state defended Maryland's new General Assembly districts Wednesday, telling Maryland's highest judges that while the map may not please everyone, it's legal and proper.

"Somebody can always draw a better map. That's not the issue," Assistant Attorney General Dan Friedman told the Court of Appeals, as he argued against three challenges to the redistricting map. "The issue is whether this map is constitutional."

Among those challenging the plan are two Democratic state senators from Baltimore County, who asked the judges to throw out the plan created by Gov. Martin O'Malley and General Assembly leaders and tell them to try again.

"It was all about Baltimore City losing population," Sen. James Brochin of Baltimore County said outside the courtroom.

Baltimore lost about 30,000 residents in the 2010 U.S. Census, and Brochin said the new district lines are intended to protect the city, which lost two of its 18 delegates and will have to share one of its six senators with Baltimore County.

The new plan turned Brochin's Towson-oriented district into one that extends to the Pennsylvania line and is majority Republican.

Sen. Delores Kelley said she heard she may have a challenger as a result of the shifts in her Baltimore County district.

"In my case, my district now goes from 68 percent to 54 percent African-American," said Kelley, who is black.

In court, more than two hours of arguments hovered around the fine legal points of establishing boundaries for new districts and whether the map stemmed from discriminatory efforts.

"Part of how we got here is that Senator Brochin is not the most popular among his colleagues. I don't think there's any dispute about that. I wouldn't fight that point. The question here, however, is the constitutional point. There is nothing here that violates the constitution," Friedman said.

A decade ago, the Court of Appeals threw out the 2002 redistricting map, saying it crossed an excessive number of jurisdictional lines. In the end, the court redrew the map itself.

The map at issue was enacted in February, when the General Assembly made no move to change the map submitted by the governor that had been crafted to reflect the 2010 Census.

Two other challenges to the map were argued as well. One contended that it is the result of racial and political gerrymandering that reduces the number of majority African-American legislative districts, and argued that it favors Democrats over Republicans while letting urban areas retain power at the expense of faster-growing regions.

The other challenge came from Christopher Bouchat of Carroll County, who said wants Maryland to follow the lead of congressional representation. Each district, regardless of population, should have two state senators and the district's population should determine the number of delegates, he said.

The Court of Appeals has no deadline for issuing decisions on the map. However, the map will not be used until the 2014 elections.

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