Gov. Larry Hogan, ending a monthslong legal and legislative tussle with Democrats, signed a map of Maryland’s congressional districts on Monday that the General Assembly redrew after a judge rejected the first version as extremely partisan.
Hogan, a Republican, said he decided to approve the reconfigured map after the state attorney general agreed to drop an appeal of state Judge Lynne Battaglia’s decision tossing out the initial map.
“This is a huge win for democracy and for improvement in the process,” Hogan said during an Annapolis news conference. “I think gerrymandering is a cancer on our democracy, no matter which party does it.”
State Republicans disliked the first map even more than the second. They view both maps as examples of partisan gerrymandering, but they consider the redrawn map — approved by the General Assembly last week — as more fair to the GOP.
“This map is a huge step in the right direction,” the second-term governor said.
Even as one redistricting case ended, another continued in the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. In that case, Republican state lawmakers seek to scrap a Democratic-drawn map of the state’s 47 General Assembly districts, alleging it was illegally drawn to favor Democrats.
But Alan M. Wilner, a retired Court of Appeals judge appointed to present findings in the case, recommended Monday that the cases be dismissed for lack of evidence. His recommendation will now be considered by the court before it rules.
In signing the congressional map, Hogan acknowledged there were issues with it. “It’s not perfect and I think there are still some issues that could be corrected,” the governor said.
Republicans have complained specifically that the new map places a piece of North Baltimore in a different district than the rest of the city. While most of Baltimore is in Congressional District 7, a portion — in the area of Roland Park and Homeland — is included in Congressional District 2, which encompasses much of Baltimore and Carroll counties.
State lawyers said that was done at least partly to ensure that District 7, now held by Kweisi Mfume, maintained a majority of constituents who are racial or ethnic minorities. But Republicans alleged the intent was to push more Democratic voters into District 2, now held by C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.
“Obviously you can’t get everything you want, but it’s almost everything we want,” Hogan said of the map, which now will be used this election year to determine who represents the state in the U.S. House for the 2023-24 session on Capitol Hill.
Democrats currently hold a 7-1 advantage over the GOP in the state’s eight U.S. House seats. In a state in which Democrats hold a 2-1 voter registration advantage, Republicans say they would likely win more seats if the district map was more fair.
Under the map being signed by Hogan, analysts say Rep. Andy Harris — Maryland’s lone Republican U.S. House member — would continue to have the edge in his district, which includes the Eastern Shore and Harford County.
But Democratic Rep. David Trone is expected to have a more challenging time getting reelected in his sprawling, reconfigured district in Central and Western Maryland.
“My race just got a lot more competitive,” Trone wrote to supporters last week after the new map was approved in the House and Senate.
For a time it was uncertain whether Hogan would sign the legislation authorizing the map. The governor had instead favored district boundaries proposed by a commission of Republican, Democratic and independent voters that he established last year.
The Hogan-endorsed map was unacceptable to the General Assembly, and Democrats hold veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate.
Hogan expressed disappointment Monday that redistricting — done every 10 years after the national census — is not always performed by a nonpartisan commission. The General Assembly has resisted that approach.
“I think we need to go back and fix the flawed process,” the governor said.
The initial map was found by Battaglia to violate several sections of the Maryland Constitution, including that legislative districts must be “compact in form” and respect natural boundaries as well as the borders of political subdivisions like counties and cities.
There are fewer irregular-shaped districts in the new map, and the districts appear more compact.
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“We are pleased Governor Hogan has agreed to sign the proposed congressional redistricting map approved by the General Assembly,” said Attorney General Brian Frosh in a written statement. “This map, like the one previously passed by the General Assembly, is Constitutional and fair. Both sides have agreed to dismiss their appeals, and our state can move forward to the primary election.”
The primary is scheduled for July 19.
Courts around the country have been hearing challenges related to gerrymandering, in which one party creates district lines to disadvantage the other.
A New York judge last week barred the use of Democratic-drawn congressional district boundaries in that state, saying the lines were drawn with “political bias.” Republican-drawn maps similarly have been blocked by courts in other states, including North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
The new Maryland map includes significant Baltimore-area boundary changes, meaning many constituents in Carroll, Howard and other counties will have new representatives. All U.S. House members will be on the ballot in July, along with races for governor, U.S. Senate and state and local offices.
The 2nd Congressional District of Democrat Ruppersberger will now include a sizable portion of Carroll County. That county will no longer include any of the 8th Congressional District of Montgomery County-based Democrat Jamie Raskin.
The 7th Congressional District represented Mfume will be almost fully contained in Baltimore City. The district’s current Howard County piece will now be part of the 3rd Congressional District held by Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes.