Court: Md. must draw new maps for 2020 elec­tion

The Star Democrat - - FRONT PAGE - By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN Associated Press Associated Press writ­ers Mark Sher­man in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and Brian Witte in An­napo­lis con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Mary­land of­fi­cials must draw up a new con­gres­sional re­dis­trict­ing plan that isn’t tainted by par­ti­san ger­ry­man­der­ing, a panel of fed­eral judges ruled Wed­nes­day. The three-judge panel’s de­ci­sion, is­sued one day after the midterm elec­tions, or­ders the state to sub­mit the new map by March 7.

COL­LEGE PARK (AP) — Mary­land of­fi­cials must draw up a new con­gres­sional re­dis­trict­ing plan that isn’t tainted by par­ti­san ger­ry­man­der­ing, a panel of fed­eral judges ruled Wed­nes­day.

The three-judge panel’s de­ci­sion, is­sued one day after the midterm elec­tions, or­ders the state to sub­mit the new map by March 7. Oth­er­wise, the court will ap­point a com­mis­sion to pro­duce a re­dis­trict­ing plan for use in the 2020 con­gres­sional elec­tion.

Sev­eral Repub­li­can vot­ers sued over the boundaries of one of Mary­land’s eight con­gres­sional dis­tricts, claim­ing state of­fi­cials un­fairly re­drew it in 2011 to fa­vor Democrats.

The panel hear­ing the case in U.S. District Court in Mary­land said the state must re­draw the 6th con­gres­sional district’s lines us­ing “tra­di­tional cri­te­ria for re­dis­trict­ing,” show­ing re­gard for “nat­u­ral boundaries.”

“Par­ti­san ger­ry­man­der­ing is nox­ious, a cancer on our democ­racy,” Chief District Judge James Bredar wrote in a con­cur­ring opin­ion.

The U.S. Supreme Court re­viewed the case be­fore de­cid­ing in June to re­fer it back to the lower court for a de­ci­sion, ef­fec­tively al­low­ing the 2011 map to re­main in place for Tues­day’s con­gres­sional elec­tions.

The Supreme Court could take up the is­sue of par­ti­san ger­ry­man­der­ing again this term, in a case from North Carolina. Repub­li­cans in North Carolina have urged the justices to rule that courts should stay out of dis­putes about the po­lit­i­cal process.

Wed­nes­day’s de­ci­sion, writ­ten by 4th U.S. Cir­cuit Court Judge Paul Niemeyer, says the state’s 2011 con­gres­sional map re­moved roughly 66,000 Repub­li­can vot­ers from the 6th district and added around 24,000 Demo­cratic vot­ers, “bring­ing about the sin­gle great­est al­ter­ation of voter makeup in any district in the Na­tion fol­low­ing the 2010 cen­sus.”

“To be sure, cit­i­zens have no con­sti­tu­tional right to be as­signed to a district that is likely to elect a rep­re­sen­ta­tive that shares their views. But they do have a right un­der the First Amend­ment not to have the value of their vote di­min­ished be­cause of the po­lit­i­cal views they have ex­pressed through their party af­fil­i­a­tion and vot­ing his­tory,” Niemeyer wrote.

Crit­ics have cited ger­ry­man­der­ing as the rea­son why Rep. John De­laney, a Demo­crat who is leav­ing the of­fice to run for pres­i­dent, was able to de­feat 10-term Repub­li­can Roscoe Bartlett in 2012, a year after the map was re­drawn. Demo­crat David Trone won the seat on Tues­day, to main­tain the 7-1 edge Democrats have in the state’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion.

Re­dis­trict­ing maps are drawn by the gover­nor and ap­proved by the state’s General As­sem­bly, which is cur­rently con­trolled by Democrats.

Mary­land Gov. Larry Ho­gan, a Repub­li­can, said the judges’ de­ci­sion con­firms that Mary­land has “the most ger­ry­man­dered dis­tricts in the coun­try.”

“This is a vic­tory for the vast ma­jor­ity of Mary­lan­ders who want free and fair elec­tions and the nu­mer­ous ad­vo­cates from across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum who have been fight­ing par­ti­san ger­ry­man­der­ing in our state for decades,” Ho­gan said in a state­ment.

A spokes­woman for Mary­land At­tor­ney General Brian Frosh’s of­fice, which has de­fended the state against the law­suit, said in an email that the of­fice is “re­view­ing op­tions” after the judges’ de­ci­sion.

Ho­gan has backed leg­is­la­tion de­signed to make con­gres­sional re­dis­trict­ing a non­par­ti­san process. For­mer Gov. Martin O’Mal­ley, a Demo­crat, tes­ti­fied in a de­po­si­tion for the fed­eral law­suit that he in­tended to “cre­ate a district where the peo­ple would be more likely to elect a Demo­crat than a Repub­li­can.”

Kathay Feng, na­tional re­dis­trict­ing di­rec­tor for the Com­mon Cause ad­vo­cacy group, said the court’s rul­ing demon­strates Mary­land’s con­gres­sional map “squashed po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion and speech.”

“Ger­ry­man­der­ing is an abuse of power no mat­ter who does it, and both Democrats and Repub­li­cans use it for their po­lit­i­cal gain,” she said in a state­ment.

AP PHOTO/PA­TRICK SEMANSKY

Mary­land Gov. Larry Ho­gan, right, speaks at a news con­fer­ence along­side Lt. Gov. Boyd Ruther­ford, Wed­nes­day, Nov. 7, 2018, at the Mary­land State House in An­napo­lis, Md. Ho­gan earned a se­cond term Tues­day after de­feat­ing Demo­cratic op­po­nent Ben Jeal­ous.

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