The judge throws the DM’s redistricting card: what’s next?


MARYLAND — Maryland lawmakers have until Thursday to draw new maps of congressional districts after a judge ruled the latest plan violates the Maryland Constitution and Bill of Rights — and unfairly favors Democrats .

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, called the decision “a monumental victory for every Marylander who cares about protecting our democracy, ensuring our elections are fair, and putting the people back in control. It highlights the partisans, secrets and rigged process that led to the legislature’s illegal and unconstitutional maps.”

The ruling by Anne Arundel County Senior Judge Lynne A. Battaglia marks the first time in state history that a judge has found a congressional card violates the state constitution. Battaglia said the map disregards Maryland law traditionally applied to legislative districts, requiring them to be compact and accommodate political subdivisions, The Washington Post reported. She also ruled that the map violated the equal protection, free speech, and free election clauses of the state constitution.

The governor on Friday urged the General Assembly to immediately adopt the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission maps, which he said were drafted with accountability and transparency.

“This is a historic step in our fight to clean up the political process in our state and ensure that the voices of the people we are elected to serve are finally heard,” Hogan’s statement read.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Attorney General’s Office told the Post that the office is reviewing the decision and a decision to appeal has not been made.

Battaglia found that the new map violates Article III, Section 4 of the Maryland Constitution. This provision has always been interpreted as applying to legislative constituencies and states that “each legislative constituency shall consist of contiguous territory, be of compact form and substantially equal in population” and that constituencies shall respect natural boundaries and boundaries political subdivisions, Maryland Matters reported. .

Battaglia also found that the map violates Articles 7, 24, and 40 of the Maryland Bill of Rights. These provisions provide respectively for elections to be “free and frequent”, equal protection and freedom of expression.

In his Notice and Order memorandum, Battaglia wrote that the plaintiffs had proven partisanship to be the overriding factor over traditional redistricting criteria like compactness when lawmakers drew the map in December. She called the plan “an outlier and a product of extreme partisan gerrymandering.”

Battaglia ordered the General Assembly to draw up a new plan and set a hearing to consider the new plan next Friday at 9 a.m.

Fair Maps Maryland, an anti-gerrymandering group linked to Hogan that backed one of the lawsuits challenging the map, filed by state Del. Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County), welcomed the decision in a statement.

“To call it a big deal would be the understatement of the century,” read the statement from Fair Maps Maryland. “Judge Battaglia’s decision confirms what we’ve all known for years – Maryland is ground zero for gerrymandering, our districts and political reality smack of it, and there’s plenty of evidence that it’s happening. The people of the Maryland has been fighting for free and fair elections for decades, and for the first time in our state’s shameful history of gerrymandering, we are about to end it.”

Battaglia’s decision comes after a four-day trial last week for a pair of lawsuits filed against the Congressional card. A trial, Szeliga v. Lamone, is brought by Republican voters from Maryland’s eight congressional districts and argues that the new map violates the state constitution by intentionally diluting Republican votes. The other lawsuit, brought by Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington) and the national conservative group Judicial Watch, also argue that the new map violates Article III, Section 4 of the Maryland Constitution.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys have notably pointed the finger at the 1st congressional district, arguing that the map violates the Constitution of Maryland. The 1st District was previously solidly Republican and included parts of northern Harford, Baltimore, and Carroll counties with the east coast, but according to the plan adopted included parts of central Anne Arundel County with the east coast.

That district is represented by U.S. Representative Andrew P. Harris, the only Republican in Congress from Maryland, and according to the map passed by lawmakers, it was expected to become much more competitive for Democrats.

Sean Trende, a senior election analyst for RealClearPolitics who testified on behalf of plaintiffs in the Szeliga case, said at trial he analyzed the map enacted by lawmakers and found that Republican voters were kicked out of the 1st District. with “near-surgical precision” in the challenge map, Maryland Matters reported.

“It was clearly drawn with the intention of damaging the Republican Party’s chances of electing anyone to Congress,” said Trende, who recently served as a special master on the Virginia Supreme Court to redraw his maps of the Congress and Legislature, the Post reported.

The Congressional map passed by lawmakers in a December special session was crafted by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Committee, a panel convened by Senate Speaker Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), Maryland Things said.

A map compiled by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, a panel convened by Hogan, did not leave the committee during the December special session. Hogan vetoed the congressional redistricting plan passed by lawmakers in December, but Democrats hold unvetoed majorities in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate and overruled his veto.

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