Group files lawsuit to topple state's new district plan


ANNAPOLIS -- A GOP-dominated group filed suit yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to overturn Maryland's brand new legislative redistricting plan, claiming it's unfair to blacks, Republicans and Baltimore Countians.

The suit, which may be only the first of several, claims that the plan, proposed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and accepted by the General Assembly yesterday, violates both the Maryland and U.S. constitutions, as well as established legal precedents.

For example, the suit argues that the plan violates the constitution's one-person, one-vote guarantee by giving Baltimore City districts with significantly smaller populations than districts elsewhere.

"The people in the smaller districts, their vote means more than the people in larger districts," said Susan Carol Elgin, president of Marylanders for Fair Representation Inc., which filed the suit.

The smaller districts were necessary to meet Governor Schaefer's desire to help the city maintain most of its political clout despite losing population in the 1980s.

Governor Schaefer brushed off the lawsuit. "If the Almighty had drawn a plan, it would have gone to court," he said.

The state attorney general's office has said the governor's plan meets legal standards.

The centerpiece of the new map has Baltimore City and Baltimore County sharing five districts. City lawmakers say that shared districts are a positive step toward regionalism. But many county legislators are angry, predicting that overlapping districts will force the county to share more of the city's problems.

The suit contends that the redistricting plan does not adequately respect the boundary lines of Baltimore County and illegally disenfranchises Republicans around the state.

It also claims that the plan does not give blacks an adequate chance to be elected in Prince George's County.

More suits, including one from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, are expected to be filed.

Ms. Elgin said the state Republican Party and Baltimore County representatives are raising money for the lawsuit.

Under the state Constitution, the redistricting plan proposed by the governor will go into effect because the legislature failed to amend it by the session's 45th day, which was yesterday.

Although the legislature took no formal action yesterday, lawmakers took the floor to complain about the governor's plan.

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