A Maryland judge tossed out a map of the state’s congressional districts Friday and ordered legislators to draw a new one after ruling the map was subject to “extreme partisan gerrymandering.”
The decision by Lynne A. Battaglia, a retired state appeals court judge presiding over a lawsuit against the congressional map, could cause significant changes in the upcoming primary and general elections, as well as the future of Maryland’s district boundaries.
The clock is ticking. State legislators have until March 30 to develop and submit a new map.
Let’s break it down:
Why are congressional maps being redrawn?
Every 10 years, states are constitutionally required to redraw congressional and legislative district lines to align with an updated population count recorded by the United States census, a practice called redistricting. That’s because the number of federal representatives a state has in the U.S. House of Representatives is based on population.
Because state legislatures in Maryland and other states are responsible for drawing the maps, this process can be used as an opportunity for the majority political party to skew district lines to favor candidates from the party in power — known as partisan gerrymandering. Gerrymandering commonly involves stacking large numbers of the opposite party’s voters into a limited number of districts, leaving that party with too few voters to compete elsewhere.
Gerrymandering is not illegal under the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2019. But the practice is still the subject of lawsuits. And state courts can decide if maps are drawn to benefit one political party, which is illegal in Maryland under the state constitution.
Who sued and why?
For years, Maryland Republicans, whose registered voters are outnumbered 2:1 by Democrats, have criticized the state’s congressional districts as some of the most gerrymandered in the nation.
In December, two Republican organizations filed separate lawsuits challenging the maps as a violation of the state’s constitution.
Battaglia considered the lawsuits together. Fair Maps Maryland, an anti-gerrymandering advocacy group tied to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, filed one, and Judicial Watch, a national conservative activist group, filed the second on behalf of 10 Republican voters in the state, including Republican congressional candidates state Del. Neil Parrott and Jeff Werner.
Democrats currently hold supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature and a 7-1 advantage over the GOP in the state’s eight U.S. House seats. Maryland’s lone Republican congressman, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, represents the 1st Congressional District, which includes the Eastern Shore and a portion of Baltimore County.
The congressional map Battaglia rejected made District 1 into a potential swing district that’s more competitive for a Democratic challenger by drawing it into Democratic areas of Anne Arundel County.
Battaglia ruled Friday the map went too far and was drawn clearly for partisan gain to the detriment of Republican voters.
Maryland Policy & Politics
“The 2021 Congressional Plan is unconstitutional, and subverts that will of those governed,” Battaglia wrote in her opinion.
Battaglia is also a former assistant U.S. attorney who was once chief of staff of former Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski.
What happens now?
State legislators have until March 30 to develop a new congressional plan that abides by the state constitution. It’s too soon to know what the map might look like.
Maryland’s Chief Judge Joseph Getty already delayed the primary election from June 28 to July 19 in Maryland because of the numerous map challenges.
Battaglia’s ruling can also be appealed. Democratic State Attorney General Brian Frosh, whose office would file the appeal, has not decided whether to appeal to the Maryland Court of Appeals, a spokeswoman for his office said.
If the case is appealed to the state’s highest court, the likelihood Battaglia’s ruling would be overturned could be in jeopardy because all but one judge has been appointed by Hogan, a Republican.
Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Emily Opilo contributed to this report.