The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to let stand a state court ruling ordering Pennsylvania to draw new congressional districts doesn’t have any direct legal impact on Maryland’s own contested and convoluted maps. The Pennsylvania case was decided solely on the basis of that state’s constitution, not federal law or the U.S. Constitution, and that appears to be the reason why Justice Samuel Alito declined to have the federal high court take up the case. Maryland’s Declaration of Rights does have some language similar to that which plaintiffs relied on in the Pennsylvania case, but the challenge to Maryland’s lines that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear this spring is being argued on the basis of alleged violations of the federal Constitution’s First Amendment protections of speech and assembly. There are simply no tea leaves to read here.
But there is most assuredly a chance to observe once again the flagrant hypocrisy of Maryland Democrats who have objected repeatedly to Gov. Larry Hogan’s efforts to enact a non-partisan process for redrawing congressional and legislative district maps after each census. The culprit this time is Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a Marylander who previously served as a member of the Montgomery County Council and of former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s cabinet. In a statement to the Washington Post, he gushed that the Supreme Court’s decision not to intervene “is a victory for democracy and another blow to the Republican Party's nationwide effort to game the system.”
Is it a “victory for democracy” when maps drawn by one party to disadvantage supporters of the other are thrown out, or is it only a victory when those maps were drawn by Republicans? It certainly seems like the latter because we’ve heard precious few complaints by Mr. Perez or any other Maryland Democrats about the defeat for democracy that Maryland’s maps entail. If there were any doubt about the fact that Maryland Democrats engaged in exactly the same kind of partisan mapmaking that Pennsylvania Republicans did, it was dispelled when Mr. O’Malley owned up to it in a deposition and confessed to it in a law school lecture. The effect of the 2011 gerrymandering may only have been to swing one seat here, compared to three or four in Pennsylvania, but that’s a mere function of population. If Maryland lawmakers had 18 districts to play with instead of eight, we’re sure they could have done just as much damage as their neighbors to the north.
The closest Maryland Democrats come to defending the current process is to say that putting the task of drawing lines into the hands of a commission on which no party has a majority, as Governor Hogan has proposed, would amount to unilateral disarmament at a time when Republicans are gerrymandering to their own advantage wherever they can. The latest fig-leaf proposal from Maryland Democrats, which Governor Hogan vetoed, was to suggest the creation of a regional compact in which Maryland would adopt non-partisan redistricting if New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina also did so.
Now Pennsylvania is being forced to draw maps that its Democratic governor and Republican legislature can agree to within the next week, or else the state supreme court will do the job. By most estimates, a fair map there would produce bigger gains for the Democrats than a fair map here would produce losses for the party. Consequently, Maryland Democrats can feel free to sign on to Governor Hogan’s proposal, or something substantially similar to it, and replicate Pennsylvania’s “victory for democracy” here — without jeopardizing a victory for Democrats in the House elections for years to come.
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