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Baltimore County

Civil rights groups, citizens file lawsuit challenging Baltimore County redistricting map

Civil rights organizations, county residents and a state senator have filed a lawsuit challenging a redistricting map they say violates federal law just hours after the map was adopted by the Baltimore County Council Monday night.

The complaint, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, names all seven council members and will be served to county attorney James Benjamin. Plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to block the map — approved unanimously by County Council — from taking effect and force the county to adopt a new one that complies with the federal voting rights laws.

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Complainants allege the plan violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in voting on the basis of race.

The adopted map will “impermissibly dilute the Black vote in Baltimore County, allowing the white majority’s bloc voting to defeat candidates preferred by Black voters and depriving Black voters of an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice,” the lawsuit alleges.

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Plaintiffs include the Baltimore County NAACP branch and its president, Danita Tolson; the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County; Common Cause Maryland; state Sen. Charles Sydnor III; former county NAACP president Anthony Fugett; and Dana Vickers Shelley, executive director of the ACLU of Maryland and a Pikesville resident.

Council chair Julian Jones, the council’s only Black member and who has opposed creating a second majority-Black district, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

In a statement, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said that he shares “the concerns of community members regarding the map approved by the County Council.”

“Opportunities for greater minority representation across all districts is vital,” the Dundalk Democrat said.

Civil rights groups for months have threatened to sue the county should it adopt a redistricting map that does not create at least one additional majority-Black district. Map opponents have maintained that since the county has a 30% Black population, and since almost half the population is nonwhite, it’s unacceptable for the jurisdiction to have just one majority-Black district when it’s mathematically feasible to create more.

The council has said that a second majority-Black district can be achieved only by splitting communities, which they were unwilling to do. Before the map passed Monday night, Democratic councilman Tom Quirk said he was confident it could stand up in court.

Map opponents had offered numerous alternative maps showing the ways in which at least one additional Black district could be drawn. Much of the county’s Black population is concentrated to the west in the 1st, 2nd and 4th districts, where the “Black population in Baltimore County is sufficiently numerous and geographically compact such that two properly apportioned electoral districts can be drawn in which Blacks would constitute a majority of the voting-age population,” according to the lawsuit.

“These elected officials remain determined to protect their own self interest,” Shelley said during a virtual news conference Tuesday, “above the rights of thousands of Black voters in the county, like me, who deserve fair representation.”

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The county’s lone majority-Black 4th District is 73% Black. After it was formed in 2001, the district elected the county’s first Black council member.

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“Meanwhile, no Black candidate, nor any non-white candidate, has been elected to the Council from any of the remaining six districts over the past two decades or at any time in history,” according to the lawsuit. “Each of these districts has always had a majority of white voters and has always voted for white County Council candidates.”

The Randallstown NAACP is also seeking to sue over the county’s map; the chapter has requested the permission of the flagship NAACP organization to do so.

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The plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU of Maryland, Baltimore-based law firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy and Washington-based firm Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer.

This story may be updated.


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