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Maryland’s highest court was just one vote shy of rejecting the state’s new legislative map, opinion shows

Maryland’s highest court was one swing vote away from rejecting a General Assembly-approved map of state legislative districts last April, an outcome that could have further delayed the state’s July 19 primary.

The closeness of the vote was revealed in an opinion released this week by the Maryland Court of Appeals.

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On April 13, the court rejected complaints by Republican politicians and voters that a map of state House and Senate districts — drawn by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly as part of redistricting — violated provisions of the state’s constitution.

At the time, the court issued a five-page order and said it would give its reasons later in an opinion. Issued Wednesday, the opinion disclosed that three of the seven judges opposed the majority ruling written by Senior Judge Robert N. McDonald.

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“This Court stands idly by and, with the intentionally designed and sharply gerrymandered district lines, sentences the voters of this State to death by a thousand partisan paper cuts,” said the dissenting opinion of Senior Judge Joseph M. Getty, formerly the court’s chief judge.

Getty was appointed to the court by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in 2016. McDonald was named in 2011 by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.

Judges Steven B. Gould and Jonathan Biran joined in Getty’s dissent, and Gould also wrote his own dissent.

Had the dissenters secured the vote of any of the other four judges, the state could have been required to hastily redraw the electoral lines, upending plans for Maryland’s primary.

The primary already had been pushed from June 28 to July 19 because of a series of legal challenges to the maps created by the legislature.

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The challenges made it difficult for election officials to plan because of uncertainty about what the final districts would look like. The State Board of Elections had warned that postponing the primary later than Aug. 16 would endanger plans for the Nov. 8 general election.

The primary featured nominating races for governor, a U.S. Senate seat, all eight congressional seats, state delegates and senators, and a number of county and local positions.

A General Assembly-approved map of the state’s eight congressional districts also was challenged by Republicans as an example of partisan gerrymandering. The final boundaries were signed into law by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in April only after they were redrawn because a judge had tossed out the Democrats’ original map.

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In the state legislative maps case, the Republican plaintiffs alleged that some districts were irregularly shaped or wove across rivers or county lines in ways that violated provisions in the state constitution. The constitution calls for legislative districts to be compact and for lawmakers to respect natural geographic boundaries and the borders of political subdivisions, like counties or cities, when drawing the maps.

But McDonald suggested the court would be overreaching if it sought to insert its “preferred district boundaries” in place of the General Assembly’s.

“Unless the Court finds that an adopted plan violates the applicable laws, the drawing of a districting map is not a core judicial power such that this Court may substitute its preferred district boundaries for the ones that the Legislature has adopted,” the judge wrote.

Redistricting is conducted every 10 years after the national census so legislative districts can conform to population shifts.


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