A federal judge must decide now whether the Baltimore County Council’s newly redrawn map of council district boundaries is fair to Black voters.
U. S. District Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby asked attorneys for civil rights organizations and a group of county residents Wednesday to file a report by 5 p.m. Thursday “stating their views on whether the County’s proposed map complies with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”
The judge will then rule — it’s not clear when — on whether the reconfigured districts are acceptable.
The individuals and organizations, including the Baltimore County NAACP branch, filed suit in December arguing that the county’s original map of the seven districts violated the Voting Rights Act because it contained a single majority-Black district in a county that is about one-third Black.
On Feb. 22, Griggsby rejected the old map and gave the council two weeks — until the end of Tuesday — to develop new boundaries that comply with the act, which bars discriminatory election practices.
The judge said in her decision that there was evidence demonstrating “racially-polarized voting” in the county, and that the council’s initial district configuration diluted Black voters’ rights. She ordered the county to adopt a new redistricting map that included either two “reasonably compact” majority-Black districts or a new district with a racial balance providing Black voters “an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.”
The county made its new map public late Tuesday night.
“With the Map we submitted today, the opportunities exist now more than ever for people of color to get elected in Baltimore County,” Council Chairman Julian E. Jones Jr. said in a written statement.
Like the old map, the new one contains a single Black-majority district — the 4th, on the county’s western side.
“Why do Baltimore County council members think it’s okay for white voters, who constitute only half of the County’s population, to continue to control six out of seven council seats?” asked Anthony Fugett, a Black county resident and one of the plaintiffs, in a prepared statement Tuesday night.
The primary election is June 28. Timing is critical because the statewide candidate filing deadline is March 22 — about two weeks away. It was pushed back from Feb. 22 by the Maryland Court of Appeals because of a legal challenge to the state’s new congressional district map.
Although the 4th would remain the county’s sole majority-Black district, the council says the Black population of District 2, which is adjacent to District 4, would be boosted in its new map from its current 29.5% to more than 41%. It said the white population would decrease from more than 55% to about 44%.
The council said the new map maintains a majority-minority district (District 1) and creates a new majority-minority district (District 2) that also has “much more equal population between Black and white voters” than previously. In a majority-minority district, a majority of constituents are racial or ethnic minorities.
According to the county, the population of the redrawn District 2 would be 44% white, 41% Black, about 7% Hispanic or Latino, and 4% Asian.
The civil rights groups, which also include the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said it would be premature to comment Wednesday while attorneys studied the county’s submission.
But retired attorney Tom Glancy, a member of the Baltimore County Fair Maps Coalition, said in an interview that the council members, through the new map, “have again placed what they perceive to be their own re-election prospects over the rights of a quarter of a million Black county residents to choose representatives who will give due consideration to their interests and concerns.”
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Griggsby was nominated by President Joe Biden and confirmed by the Senate in June, making her the first woman of color to serve as a federal judge in the state.
If the judge rejects the county’s proposal, the court “should enter its own map” by March 15, the civil rights groups said in a status report to the court earlier Tuesday.
In that report, the plaintiffs accused the council of stalling and “stonewalling” by delaying releasing the map and not providing information about it in advance.
In a release Tuesday night, the County Council fired back, saying the plaintiffs had made “baseless and inflammatory allegations and bullying assertions.”
Redistricting is done every 10 years to reflect population shifts. Baltimore County has grown more diverse since the 2010 census. The Black population share is up 3.8 percentage points while the white population has declined by 11 percentage points, according to a county redistricting commission that studied population trends last year and proposed a single majority-Black district.
“The redistricting plan we submitted to the Court represents this Council’s good faith efforts to comply with the court’s Order,” Jones’ statement said.
Developing the new plan was “a very difficult process,” he said, in which the county council tried to keep communities intact while providing “more opportunity for Black voters in the County to elect representatives of their choice.”
This story has been updated to reflect that population changes in Baltimore County were based on percentage point share. The Sun regrets the error.