Redistricting a big need in Maryland
Gov. Larry Hogan’s been saying it. His predecessor Martin O’Malley even copped to it. Now a federal judge has ordered it be remedied. Maryland’s congressional districts have been officially declared gerrymandered.
U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Paul V. Niemeyer issued an opinion Nov. 7 calling for Maryland’s congressional districts to be redrawn following complaints from Republicans who argued that their First Amendment rights have been violated.
They claimed, and the judge upheld, that when the 6th District was redrawn following the 2010 U.S. census, state officials all the way up to then Gov. Martin O’Malley sought to flip the district from a Republican stronghold to one more likely to elect a Democrat to Congress.
O’Malley admitted to his role in the gerrymandering scheme in a speech last year at the Boston College School of Law. “As a governor, I held that redistricting pen in my own Democratic hand. I was convinced that we should use our political power to pass a map that was more favorable for the election of Democratic candidates. That in this hyper-partisan era, we should not ‘disarm unilaterally.’ That this was legal and passes Constitutional muster. And it did,” read a copy of O’Malley’s speech.
State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s) was in on it as well, as shown by remarks prepared for him that speak directly to an opportunity to target the longtime incumbent Republican representing the 6th District, Roscoe Bartlett.
“In the face of Republican gains in redistricting in other states around the nation, we have a serious obligation to create this opportunity,” the prepared remarks for Miller state.
“[N]o party disputes the material facts in the record, although the parties do dispute the legal consequences that flow from them,” Niemeyer wrote in his opinion.
The redistricting process is required after every U.S. census, so every 10 years. The goal is to ensure that congressional districts maintain about equal populations, upholding the concept of “one man, one vote.”
According to the facts of the case, in reviewing the 6th District, which historically comprises western Maryland and stretched along the Mason Dixon line to Harford County, the population as of the 2010 census had grown to 10,186 more residents than the ideal district size of 721,529 people. That’s all that needed to be shifted in redrawing the 6th District: 10,186 people.
Those redrawing the maps, led by U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.-5th) — whom the judge noted referred to as “a serial gerrymanderer” — moved 66,000 Republicans out of the 6th District and added 24,000 Democrats. The western Maryland district now included swaths of Montgomery County. Bartlett lost his seat.
By the way, they also considered flipping the 1st District, comprising the entirety of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. They did not because, according to the facts of the case, that would have required taking the 1st District across the Chesapeake Bay to Annapolis. Instead, they accepted that it would remain solidly Republican by packing in as many GOP’ers as possible while wrapping across the top of the bay.
If concerns over Maryland’s congressional districts sounds familiar, they were the subject of previous lawsuits, focused on the bizarrely drawn 3rd District that wraps around and includes portions of Baltimore City. It was the subject of two gerrymandering suits, the first based on partisanship, the second on racial composition.
In a previous ruling on the 3rd District, Niemeyer opined that it was drawn worse than the Massachusetts districts established in the early 1800s by then Gov. Elbridge Gerry, said by one newspaper to look like a salamander, or “Gerry-mander,” and thus adding a new term to the lexicon.
“In form, the original Massachusetts Gerrymander looks tame by comparison, as this is more reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying pros- trate across the center of the State,” Niemeyer previously wrote of the 3rd District.
Hogan has repeatedly sought to change Maryland’s redistricting process, making it nonpartisan. He may now have his opportunity. Last week, he issued an executive order to establish a nonpartisan commission to redraw the 6th District in accordance with the court ruling. He also plans to submit legislation for a fourth time to the General Assembly to codify a nonpartisan process; his previous three submissions were never brought to a vote.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh is appealing the federal court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. He has asked that orders requiring the redrawing of the 6th District be stayed or rescinded until the Supreme Court issues its opinion. He has said he does not want efforts to have to be duplicated, wasting public resources, in redrawing districts if the highest court in the country offers different guidance.
We want to see the redistricting process move ahead. We have disagreed with the 2011 redistricting process since the day it launched. The map of the congressional districts is ridiculous and while O’Malley thought it legal at the time, we are happy to see a judge finally rule what we and Hogan have long agreed on: that Maryland’s districts are some of the most gerrymandered in the country.