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Politics

Baltimore County’s second council district map gets judicial OK over civil rights groups’ objections

A federal judge approved Baltimore County Council’s second attempt to redraw council district boundaries Thursday, but civil rights groups continued to insist the map doesn’t deliver a “level playing field” for Black voters.

U.S. District Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby informed parties to the case of her decision during a conference call, Council Chairman Julian Jones said, after she ruled last month that the first map would disadvantage Black residents. He said the judge’s written opinion was expected Friday.

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Jones said the judge had recognized the county’s “commitment to diversity” in working through a complex redistricting process and producing a map that “was acceptable to the court while also staying true to the will of our communities.”

The county council voted unanimously Thursday evening to approve the new redistricting map.

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“I think all of us are ready to do the peoples’ work on county council,” said councilman Izzy Patoka. “Lets get on with government.”

But the plaintiffs, including the county NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County and Common Cause-Maryland, said the plan continued to fall short.

“While the revised map that Baltimore County has now proposed is better, better is not enough to fulfill the racial justice requirements of the Voting Rights Act,” said a statement released by the groups that filed the suit.

“All we were asking for is a level playing field, and I am disappointed that the court did not level the playing field,” said Anthony Fugett, a Baltimore County resident and one of seven voters who joined the suit as plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs said they were considering opportunities for a possible appeal, but that it was too soon to elaborate.

The council submitted the new map on March 8, saying it would improve opportunities for people of color to get elected in the county.

But the plaintiffs said the latest effort — like the initial one — would disadvantage Black voters. The organizations, which filed suit against the county in December over the original map, argued that the county, which is about one-third Black, should have two majority-Black council districts. The council’s new map has one, District 4, which is one of seven single-member districts.

In her February order, Griggsby required the county to adopt a new map that includes 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.”

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The county chose the second route, preserving District 4 — in Western Baltimore County — as a majority-Black district while boosting the Black population in adjacent District 2, currently represented by Patoka, a Democrat from Pikesville. Under the county’s plan, the Black population in District 2 would increase from 29.5% to more than 41%. The white population in the district would decrease from more than 55% to about 44%.

Griggsby, during a March 21 court hearing, suggested her decision would rely at least partly on whether the proposed new District 2 was fair to Black voters.

In oral arguments, the county called District 2 “a crossover district” in which racial polarization was minimized because Black and Jewish voters effectively formed coalitions backing the same candidates.

But the plaintiffs said the district, like some others in the county, demonstrated racial polarization in its voting that could prove detrimental to outnumbered Black voters.

The District 2 configuration means white voters there “will continue to have veto power over the desires of Black voters, despite the west side of Baltimore County being majority Black,” Fugett said. “That speaks volumes to me, and I hope that speaks volumes to all of my neighbors.”

But the council said in a news release that the new District 2 “enhances the already-existing ‘coalition’ and ‘cross-over’ voting to enable Black citizens a meaningful opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.”

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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.


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