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Maryland’s new congressional map draws first legal challenge

Maryland’s new map of congressional districts is facing its first legal challenge, a lawsuit brought by a dozen Republicans, including two who are hoping to be elected to Congress.

In the lawsuit, they argue that the new districts meander around the state in ways that divide communities in order to give Democrats an advantage at the ballot box.

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They’re asking the state courts to throw out the new map and substitute a map drawn by a commission appointed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, at least temporarily until the General Assembly can adopt a better map.

Del. Neil Parrott, a Republican who has represented Washington County in the General Assembly since 2011, is among the organizers of the lawsuit and said the latest redistricting has all the hallmarks of a political gerrymander.

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“This is a clear example of the politicians picking their voters and not the voters picking their politicians,” Parrott said as he announced the lawsuit Wednesday afternoon outside Frederick City Hall.

Parrott, who is running for Congress in the 6th District — which stretches from Garrett County to the Capital Beltway — in 2022, said Marylanders need districts drawn “that are fair to the community.”

The congressional map approved by the Maryland General Assembly Wednesday. SOURCE: Maryland General Assembly Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission | Baltimore Sun graphic

Parrott held up posters comparing the map approved by the Maryland General Assembly with one from Hogan’s Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, which more neatly divides the districts and has fewer district boundaries crossing county lines.

Analyses of the two sets of maps have indicated it’s likely Maryland would again elect seven Democrats and one Republican to Congress under the approved map. The Hogan commission’s map, meanwhile, might lead to the state electing two or three Republicans.

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Democratic leaders in the Maryland General Assembly defended the Congressional map as they approved it earlier this month, saying it is legally sound and makes most of the districts more compact and more competitive than they were before.

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, and Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, did not respond to interview requests Wednesday.

State lawmakers were required to approve new district boundaries to account for population changes recorded in the 2020 Census.

As a starting point, lawmakers used the map put in place following the 2010 Census. That map has been widely panned as extremely gerrymandered, with a federal judge describing one of the districts as “reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.”

Democratic lawmakers noted that map largely survived legal challenges, so the new map — which they said is an improvement — should, as well. In a 2019 ruling on a case challenging that map, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal courts were not the proper venue for disputes involving partisan gerrymandering.

Hogan and many Republicans haven’t bought arguments that the new map would survive scrutiny in the courts, insisting that the new map falls short of legal standards. Hogan, who has long been vocally opposed gerrymandering, has said he hopes legal challenges to the map will succeed.

“The courts will be the final arbiter, not partisan legislators. These maps cannot and will not stand,” Hogan said earlier this month.

And the governor published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week, urging the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene and file a lawsuit over the map. Hogan noted that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland sued Texas, alleging that state’s new congressional map discriminates against minority voters. Maryland’s map is “even worse,” and Garland should sue this state too, Hogan argued.

All 12 of the plaintiffs in the suit filed Wednesday are Republicans, a group that also includes Jeff Werner, who plans to run for Congress in the Prince George’s County-based 4th District.

They teamed with the conservative group Judicial Watch to file the lawsuit in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. Parrott said he hopes the case ultimately ends up in the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

Five of the court’s seven judges were appointed by Hogan, including Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty, who previously served as the governor’s top lobbyist and legislative adviser.

The plaintiffs are pinning their argument on two sections of the Maryland Constitution that require that state legislative districts be compact and that all Marylanders have a right to participate in “free and frequent” elections for the state legislature.

Those sections of the Maryland Constitution make no mention of Congressional elections or districts. But the plaintiffs assert in their lawsuit that those sections also apply to elections for Congress.

Legal experts have indicated such a strategy might be difficult because the Maryland Constitution doesn’t explicitly address Congressional districts.

Another lawsuit challenging the Congressional map is expected to be filed Thursday by a group aligned with Hogan, Fair Maps Maryland.

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