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Politics

Maryland Republican delegates ask state’s highest court to throw out new General Assembly district map

Maryland’s new map of districts for state senators and delegates is headed to court, as a group aligned with Gov. Larry Hogan has charged the map violates the state constitution’s requirement that districts must be compact and respect natural boundaries.

Three Republican state delegates, backed by the advocacy group Fair Maps Maryland, filed a lawsuit by a Thursday deadline, one of four challenges to the map in the state’s highest court, the Maryland Court of Appeals.

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The delegates’ lawsuit asks the court to either require lawmakers to redraw the districts or adopt an alternate map proposed by Hogan that previously was rejected by lawmakers.

“The Maryland Court of Appeals has the opportunity to restore free and fair elections to our state and join the millions of Americans waking up to the dangers of gerrymandering. We are respectfully asking them to do what is clearly right and needed now more than ever,” said Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Fair Maps Maryland, in a statement. Mayer is an adviser and former top aide to Hogan.

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Maryland’s constitution mandates that “each legislative district shall consist of adjoining territory, be compact in form, and of substantially equal population. Due regard shall be given to natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions.”

The delegates’ lawsuit claims 13 districts in the new legislative map run afoul of those requirements. Nearly all the challenged districts are in the central part of the state, although one dips into Southern Maryland. Many cross county lines, such as District 42 in Carroll and Baltimore counties and District 7 in Harford and Baltimore counties. Others, the lawsuit charges, sprawl in confusing directions or divide neighborhoods.

The three delegates behind the lawsuit would see their districts’ boundaries significantly altered for this year’s elections by the new map. They are Mark Fisher of Calvert County, Nic Kipke of Anne Arundel County and Kathy Szeliga, who represents parts of Harford and Baltimore counties.

Their lawsuit also alleges that in several districts lines were drawn to favor specific, unnamed politicians or to generally favor Democrats. That violates a guarantee of “free and frequent” elections in the Declaration of Rights in the Maryland constitution, the suit says.

The Democrat-led Maryland General Assembly approved the new set of districts for all 188 members of the legislature last month on a purely party-line vote, brushing aside charges from Republicans that the districts were gerrymandered to favor Democrats and further solidify their 2-to-1 majority in Annapolis. They also argued that some voters are partially disenfranchised because voters in some districts elect three delegates on an at-large basis, while other districts are split up into smaller one-delegate and two-delegate subdistricts.

A second lawsuit challenging the map focused on the inconsistent use of the subdistricts and came from delegates Brenda Thiam and Wayne Hartman and Carroll County voter Patricia Shoemaker.

“The Plan passed by the General Assembly directly disenfranchises many citizens from across the state of Maryland by ‘mixing and matching’ single member and multimember districts,” they wrote in the lawsuit.

This lawsuit asks for the court to void the map and have new districts drawn by state lawmakers or a special magistrate.

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Democratic leaders maintained during debate that the new map is fair and in compliance with requirements in the state’s constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act. They said the new map was based on the current districts, a map that was previously upheld by the courts as legally sound.

House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones declined to comment and Senate President Bill Ferguson did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.

The job of defending the map falls to state Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat. His office has a policy not to discuss pending litigation.

In approving the map favored by Democrats, the legislature effectively rejected the alternate map drawn by a commission created by Hogan. The governor appointed Republicans, Democrats and independents to the commission and Hogan touted its work as independent and nonpartisan. As the Democratic-backed plan advanced, some Republicans introduced amendments to swap in variations of the Hogan commission’s map instead, efforts that repeatedly failed on party-line votes.

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The approved map was the work of a bipartisan committee of top-ranking delegates and senators and chaired by Karl S. Aro, retired director of the Department of Legislative Services.

Though Republicans participated in the legislative committee’s process, including in hearings and public voting sessions, they were outnumbered by Democrats; the two Republican members voted against the final map.

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The redrawing of the state legislative districts was required following the 2020 census to account for demographic shifts. While Maryland’s population grew overall to nearly 6.2 million, that growth was uneven. Outer suburbs grew more quickly, while Baltimore City continued a decades-long population slide. As a result, Baltimore would have less representation in Annapolis under the approved map. Some rural counties in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore lost population, as well.

Legal challenges to the state’s legislative map are handled by the state’s highest court. Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty has set an expedited schedule for such cases, as elected officials and political hopefuls face a Feb. 22 deadline for filing paperwork for the 2022 elections. All seats in the General Assembly — 47 for senators and 141 for delegates — are up this year, and candidates are required to live in the district they seek to represent.

The two other lawsuits filed came from an Anne Arundel County voter and from the chairman of Washington County’s Republican State Central Committee.

The state must respond by Tuesday, and a video conference will be held Feb. 17 to schedule the legal process. Retired Court of Appeals Judge Alan M. Wilner has been appointed as a special magistrate overseeing the scheduling issues.

The Maryland Court of Appeals will decide the cases. Five of the seven judges on the court, including Getty, were appointed by Hogan.


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