For Republicans in Maryland and Carroll County, the U.S. Supreme Court offered a chance to address gerrymandered districts that were drawn to favor Democrats.
The high court did not deliver.
In a 5-4 ruling — with the court’s conservative justices in the majority — the justices found that federal courts aren’t the place to resolve complaints of redistricting that results in the advantage of one party or group over another. For Carroll, a county that’s been sliced up and included in districts that cross county lines, the decision comes as a disappointment for many area representatives, as well as this editorial board. It should also be deeply disappointing to any independents or Democrats who believe in fair elections — especially considering the advantage that Republicans enjoy in gerrymandered districts in other states.
This outcome, at least for now, preserves the status quo for Carroll County’s congressional districts. This means about half of the county is lumped in with the rest of the Eastern Shore and other areas along the Mason-Dixon Line — a district dominated by the GOP. And the other half is joined with significant parts of Montgomery and Frederick counties — a much more Democrat-friendly district. It makes no sense geographically or politically.
In a statement, Gov. Larry Hogan called the ruling “terribly disappointing to all who believe in fair elections.”
“I pledge to vigorously continue this fight, both in Maryland and across our nation. Gerrymandering is wrong, and both parties are guilty. It stifles real political debate, contributes to our bitter partisan polarization, and deprives citizens of meaningful choices. The voters should pick their representatives, not the other way around,” Hogan, a Republican, said in the statement.
Hogan went on to pledge that next year he will — again — introduce state legislation to reform the districts, “to put the drawing of districts in the hands of a balanced, fair, and nonpartisan commission.”
“This is a problem we can, should, and must solve. It is, and will continue to be, one of my highest priorities as governor,” he said.
We hope Hogan is successful. All it takes is one look at the hopelessly and famously gerrymandered “broken-winged pterodactyl” of the 3rd Congressional District to see that the current map was not drawn to serve Marylanders.
It’s unfortunate that the judiciary can no longer be relied upon to solve this issue. It’s unfortunate that the solution, at this moment, will have to be found through a bipartisan political process that just doesn’t seem possible. Maryland Democrats have been reluctant — to say the least — to support Hogan’s efforts at reform. Of course, doing so could go against their political interests. A bipartisan solution to this problem is clearly the ideal solution, but it would require political will from both parties that just isn’t there. This sort of political stalemate is exactly why we believe the courts ought to have a role in striking down frankly ridiculous maps that were obviously not drawn in good faith.
Maryland's convoluted congressional districts were drawn with an eye toward ousting a Republican incumbent and replacing him with a Democrat, former Gov. Martin O'Malley acknowledged as part of a high-profile legal challenge to the maps winding its way through federal court.
As Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 5, correctly pointed out, “our districts have been manipulated, and it’s been admitted to in court.” Former Gov. Martin O'Malley acknowledged as part of a legal challenge to the maps in 2017 that Maryland Democrats drew the state's convoluted congressional districts with the intention of ousting a longtime Republican incumbent and replacing him with a Democrat.
Despite O’Malley’s major on-the-record admission, the responsibility for fixing the probably apparently — in the Supreme Court conservatives’ eyes — rests with the same liberal-dominated legislature that drew the maps in the first place. The governor can and should try all he wants to redraw the district lines, but he can’t do it alone.
Forgive us for not seeing much reason for optimism that the General Assembly will set this matter straight. What reason do Maryland’s Democratic leaders have to not maintain the status quo they established? Haven’t they just been reassured that the judiciary won’t question the maps they draw up? We worry this Supreme Court decision could ripple for years to come, all across the nation. If the drawing on district lines is a political process that does not concern the courts, then U.S. voters are in danger of being at the mercy of whatever party is in control when the lines are drawn.
This political game is a disservice to voters, and it should be not permitted as the status quo. We fear that is the new reality the Supreme Court has created.
There is another potential route out of this mess, however. As Sen. Michael Hough, R-District 4, pointed out to us, new congressional maps will need to be drawn after the 2020 Census.
“It’s an opportunity to draw correct maps and stop penalizing the people of Frederick and Carroll County and having our county split in half,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a huge fight.”