Editorial: Redistricting reform will have to wait

The question of whether partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional remains without an answer after the Supreme Court on Monday unanimously rejected two cases dealing with the issue — one from Wisconsin and one from Maryland.

In the Maryland case, Republican voters in the state’s 6th Congressional District — which previously included Carroll County — challenged that Democrats intentionally discriminated against them in redrawing the borders of the solidly Republican district into one Democrats could win.


In an unsigned opinion, the high court affirmed a district court’s decision not to block Maryland from holding congressional elections under the 2011 map. It also ruled that the plaintiffs, who asked for a preliminary injunction in 2017, had waited too long to seek relief.

The case, however, can now proceed in the lower court. It had been put on hold pending the Supreme Court’s decision in the Wisconsin case.

However, that may be moot. Once the 2020 census is complete, both congressional and legislative maps in Maryland will be redrawn based on that data. And a lot could change in Maryland since the last time the maps were drawn it was under then-Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who admitted to his party’s scheme to gerrymander the districts in 2010 and has since become an outspoken critic of the practice.

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has proposed legislation in each of his four years in office to form an independent commission to draw Maryland's congressional and state legislative districts. Every time, it has failed in the Democrat-controlled Maryland General Assembly.

Depending on the results of this November’s gubernatorial election, redistricting may be a hot topic when the General Assembly returns next January. Should Hogan be re-elected, he would have some significant sway in how the districts might be drawn in 2021, proposing the congressional maps which the state Senate and House of Delegates would vote on. If a joint resolution could not be reached within 45 days, the governor’s proposed districts would become law.

It would be hypocritical, of course, for a Republican who has advocated for an independent commission to draw the maps to instead propose maps that were gerrymandered in favor of Republicans, but since when has hypocrisy stopped a politician before? That might be enough to get Maryland Democrats to finally consider a proposal for such a commission.

That is, of course, assuming Hogan is re-elected. He’ll face a stiff challenge in November from whichever Democratic candidate emerges from next week’s primary election field. Should a Democrat be elected to the Governor’s Mansion, it could very well be more of the same from Maryland’s next round of maps.

Partisan gerrymandering is the worst kind of politics, essentially giving politicians the ability to draw the maps and pick their voters, rather than voters choosing who represents them — as we believe should be the case in a constitutional republic.

Maryland’s oddly shaped congressional districts have been considered among the worst in the country as a result of partisan gerrymandering. Carroll was particularly hurt by the last redistricting efforts, being removed from the 6th District with which Carroll’s political leanings largely aligned and now split among the 1st District, which stretches from Taneytown to Ocean City, and the 8th District, which includes most of southern Carroll, portions of Frederick and a large number of Montgomery County residents inside the D.C. Beltway.

It’s a shame the high court rejected the Maryland case on the grounds that it did, as because of the overwhelming evidence of intent, thanks to O’Malley’s earlier deposition on the maps, it might have presented the best opportunity to address the matter of when partisan intent becomes unconstitutional. Now, those of us who want to see redistricting reform will have to wait on our elected officials to take the necessary steps, or the perfect case to come before the Supreme Court so that it can no longer punt on the issue.