Redistricting fight to move to legal arena


By the end of today, the State House politicking over redrawing Maryland's legislative districts will be officially completed and a new map will become law. Now the battle moves to the courts.

A half-dozen or more lawsuits are expected to be filed beginning next week challenging the redistricting plan created by Gov. Parris N. Glendening - including suits by Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV of Baltimore, Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. of Baltimore County and Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus of the Eastern Shore.

Mitchell also planned to file an ethics complaint last night over the Senate and House resolutions that translated Glendening's map into law, saying the way they were handled "subverted the public process."

The governor's legislative map - required once a decade to reflect the latest national census data on population changes - shifts two state Senate districts from the Baltimore region to the fast-growing Washington suburbs.

Many of the complaints center on such issues as eliminating the Baltimore County Dundalk district, merging two city senators' districts and changing how the Eastern Shore is divided.

Under the Maryland Constitution, Glendening's proposal automatically takes effect if the General Assembly doesn't act to change it by the 45th day of the session.

Today is the 45th day, and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller say they do not expect any legislative action.

Instead, opponents of the governor's proposal will challenge the plan under the Maryland Constitution with the Court of Appeals and federal civil rights laws with the U.S. District Court - lawsuits that have long been expected by those who helped create the plan.

"Lawsuits will be filed under any condition," predicted Taylor, who served with Miller on the five-member redistricting advisory panel appointed by Glendening.

Today, Robert A. Zarnoch, the Assembly's chief counsel, expects to file a legal brief with the Court of Appeals to start setting up a process for legal challenges. All state lawsuits on redistricting go directly to Maryland's highest court.

If the court follows similar procedures to what occurred in 1982 - the last time that a state legislative election was held the same year that the districts were redrawn - the deadline for all challenges would likely be in late March.

The court would appoint a special master to gather facts on all of the challenges, and the judges would hold a hearing. A ruling likely would be made by early June.

Because state law requires candidates to be living in their districts six months in advance of the general election - before final rulings could be made - the court would likely follow its precedent from two decades ago and extend that residency deadline, perhaps until July.

Taylor, Miller and the governor have all said they're confident the redistricting plan will survive any legal challenges. "The governor was very careful to make sure he followed the constitutional requirements of redistricting," said Michael Morrill, a spokesman for Glendening.

The first challenge was to be filed yesterday by Mitchell with the Assembly's ethics committee over corrections made to the redistricting legislation.

The joint resolutions on redistricting introduced on the first day of the session contained several technical errors - including assigning the same city precinct to two districts. More than a month later, a second printing of the resolutions was made, correcting the errors.

The governor's office said the changes affected only the resolutions, not the overall plan and redistricting map. But Mitchell charged that when other bills have technical mistakes, legislators are required to vote on corrective amendments.

"When there are changes made to legislation, we expect the rules to be followed," said Jimmy A. Bell, Mitchell's lawyer in the redistricting challenge.

But Zarnoch issued an opinion this month that a second printing could be done "without the necessity of reintroducing or amending the resolution" because the changes "do not affect the governor's plan as evidenced by the maps and data."

Mitchell and Bell said they intend to file a lawsuit Monday challenging the legality of the plan, which merges Mitchell's district with that of Sen. George W. Della Jr. "It really fits the definition of gerrymandering," Mitchell said.

The Baltimore County delegation that represents the Dundalk area - Stone and his three delegates - also plan a lawsuit challenging how their district was erased and divided among four other districts. Two precincts, including the one where Stone lives, were shifted into northern Anne Arundel County. "Baltimore County lost representation and they annihilated a district," Stone said.

Stone's attorney, H. Albert Figinski, said that the current legislative map has 18 districts extending into more than one jurisdiction, while the new map increases that to 22. "There are many more crossings of subdivision lines this time than last," he said.

Figinski also is likely to represent Stoltzfus, the Senate Republican leader who moved in November to what he described as his "dream house." Glendening's plan changes the Eastern Shore enough to place that home in the district of Sen. Richard F. Colburn.

"They've created a district that goes from Tilghman Island to Smith Island, and it would take a legislator three hours to drive from one end to the other," Stoltzfus said. "How is that a compact district?"

Several organizations also have talked about filing court challenges, including the Maryland Republican Party, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Coalition of Concerned Christian Black Men of Prince George's County.

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