Facing a looming court deadline to redraw Maryland’s congressional districts, Democrats in the Maryland Senate quickly approved a hastily redrawn map Tuesday on a party-line vote.
Final votes in the General Assembly to approve the map are expected by a Wednesday deadline set by Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Lynne A. Battaglia, who rejected the legislature’s earlier congressional map as the “product of extreme partisan gerrymandering” that violated several clauses in the state constitution.
Maryland’s was the first Democratic map overturned in the 2022 election cycle. Republican maps in North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania have been similarly shot down, prompting pleas for the U.S. Supreme Court to limit the power of state courts regarding maps drawn by state legislatures.
The map Battaglia rejected would’ve solidified Democratic control of seven of Maryland’s eight congressional districts and also made the state’s lone Republican congressman, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, more vulnerable to a challenger.
The new map, drawn over the weekend and publicly posted for the first time Monday night, appears to significantly dilute the Democrats’ formidable partisan advantages. The map would take effect if Battaglia approves it.
It remained unclear Tuesday whether Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, plans to appeal Battaglia’s original decision. On Monday, Democratic legislative leaders seemed to signal that intention as likely on a track parallel to the legislative approval process.
Senators approved the map Tuesday after partisan debate, with Republicans opposing but Democrats pushing the map through on a final vote of 30 to 13. The House of Delegates is expected to swiftly follow and approve the map and send it to Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican. Democrats control both chambers with veto-proof majorities.
“This map, while prettier [than the map rejected by the court], is nothing more than lipstick on a pig,” said Sen. Michael Hough, a Frederick County Republican who likened it to the current gerrymandered congressional maps adopted in 2010.
Baltimore County Republican Sen. Chris West called it “far superior” to the map adopted in December, but said he believed the “excessive number” of county crossings — particularly in Baltimore City and County — rendered it, too, unconstitutional.
Senate President Bill Ferguson said he was “disappointed” Republicans still voted against the latest map because, in his view, it addressed many of the objections Republicans had raised back in December.
Legislative and court approval of the map would provide clarity for 2022 Maryland congressional candidates about the districts they are seeking to represent and for state voters about the districts they perhaps will be voting in for the first time. Many will find themselves in new territory.
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Hogan vetoed the congressional map passed in December but was swiftly overridden by Democratic lawmakers. He has repeatedly urged lawmakers to adopt an alternate set of maps drawn by a bipartisan commission he appointed, although Democratic leaders in the General Assembly have shown little interest in considering that map.
A Hogan spokesman did not return a message Tuesday seeking comment about the latest maps.
Democratic senators argued that the new map complies with Battaglia’s order and credited the nonpartisan staff at the Department of Legislative Services with working through the weekend to draft it. Republicans, however, loudly objected that the map remained skewed heavily in favor of Democrats and complained that Republicans weren’t included in the frenetic drafting process.
In rejecting the original map, Battaglia said it violated the state constitutional requirement that legislative districts consist of adjoining territory and be compact in form, with due regard for natural boundaries and political subdivisions. She found that it also violated the state constitution’s free elections, free speech and equal protection clauses.
Legislative leaders said the ruling amounted to a new standard for the state’s congressional maps. While those standards have applied to the boundaries of the state legislative districts for the 188 seats in the General Assembly in the past, they had not been applied before to the congressional map, they said.
Legal wrangling over this and other maps following the 2020 census already has prompted a three-week delay in Maryland’s busy primary election, now set for July 19.
The Associated Press contributed to this story