Advertisement
Politics

Maryland attorney general to appeal court ruling that rejected new congressional district map

Maryland’s attorney general said he will appeal a judge’s decision that found a map of the state’s congressional districts drawn by Democratic legislators was too partisan.

The “notice of appeal” was filed Wednesday with the Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest state court. The document, signed by Attorney General Brian Frosh and two of his attorneys, said simply that the state planned to contest last Friday’s ruling in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court barring the state from using the map and ordering the General Assembly to craft new district boundaries.

Advertisement

In her 94-page order, Lynne Battaglia — a retired state appeals court judge assigned to the case — sided with Republican lawmakers and voters who had argued that the initial map was drawn with “partisanship as a predominant interest.”

State legislators reacted to her ruling by crafting a new map, while officials also studied whether to appeal the judge’s decision. It was uncertain until early Wednesday evening whether that appeal would happen.

Advertisement

The new map — which analysts say could marginally help Republican candidates more than the first version — was quickly approved by the state Senate on Tuesday and by the House of Delegates on Wednesday afternoon over the objections of Republican lawmakers.

“It [the replacement] is a map that I think the people of Maryland can be proud of,” House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke said.

But a half-dozen Republicans spoke ardently against the map, calling it nearly as partisan as the first one.

Democrats have said the new map was drafted by Department of Legislative services staff with guidance from the attorney general’s lawyers. GOP lawmakers have complained that they were shut out of the discussions.

“It’s a highly partisan map,” said Del. Neil Parrott, of Washington County, who tried unsuccessfully to get the House to pass an amendment substituting another map instead.

Parrott’s substitute map was created by a commission appointed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan that included Republican, Democratic and independent voters.

The Democrats’ new map will now go to Hogan, who has said he favors the one drawn by the commission he created. Last year, Hogan vetoed the General Assembly’s first map, but his veto was quickly overridden. Democrats hold veto-proof supermajorities in the House and Senate.

“We expect to receive the legislation tomorrow morning, and action could come at any time,” the governor’s office said Wednesday night in an email reply to Baltimore Sun questions.

Advertisement

The court case and legislative proceedings have been expedited because the primary election is scheduled for July 19, already later than originally planned due to the uncertainty. It will include nominating races for all eight congressional districts as well as governor, a U.S. Senate seat, and a number of state and local races. The candidate filing deadline is looming on April 15.

Congressional district lines must be redrawn every 10 years to reflect population shifts found in the U.S. census.

The current challenge began in two lawsuits filed in December after state legislators approved the new map. In the suits, Republicans argued that partisan gerrymandering of the congressional districts by Democratic state lawmakers violated provisions in the constitution.

One suit was filed by Fair Maps Maryland, an anti-gerrymandering advocacy group tied to Hogan.

“Hypocrisy continues to reign supreme in the Maryland General Assembly,” Doug Mayer, a former Hogan aide working with Fair Maps, said Wednesday after the state’s notice of appeal. “On the same day they pass court-ordered new maps, they are still clawing with their fingernails to hold on to one of the most gerrymandered maps in the history of this country.”

The other suit was brought by the national conservative activist group Judicial Watch on behalf of 10 Republican voters in the state, including two Republican congressional candidates, state Del. Neil Parrott and Jeff Werner.

Advertisement

Battaglia considered the two suits together.

Maryland Policy & Politics

Maryland Policy & Politics

Weekly

Keep up to date with Maryland politics, elections and important decisions made by federal, state and local government officials.

Her order hinged partly on an interpretation of the state constitution — particularly the precise meaning of “legislative districts.” She is the first Maryland judge to strike down a congressional district map based on state constitutional guidelines.

A 1972 constitutional amendment decreed that Maryland’s legislative districts “shall consist of adjoining territory, be compact in form and of substantially equal population” and that lawmakers must consider natural boundaries and the borders of political subdivisions like counties and cities.

In defending the first map, lawyers for Frosh argued that the Maryland Constitution doesn’t specifically apply the same rules for congressional districts. But the Republican plaintiffs said the constitution’s allusion to “legislative districts” was meant to be generic and to cover congressional districts as well as state legislative maps.

Battaglia found the map violated the state constitution’s equal protection and free speech clauses as well as a clause that protects participation in elections.

Advertisement

Courts around the country have been dealing with cases alleging 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.

Democrats currently hold seven of Maryland’s eight U.S. House seats. The only Republican is Rep. Andy Harris, who is seeking his seventh term from the 1st Congressional District that includes the Eastern Shore.


Advertisement