Hogan calls for redistricting panel
ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan issued an executive order Monday establishing an emergency commission to draw new congressional districts after a federal judge ruled the state’s Sixth District is unconstitutional.
Federal judges issued opinions earlier this month saying the 6th District, as redrawn in 2011 in a process overseen by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley, violates citizens’ First Amendment rights.
“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. With this unanimous ruling, the federal court is confirming what we in Maryland have known for a long time — that we have the most gerrymandered districts in the country, they were drawn this way for partisan reasons, and they violate Mar ylanders’ constitutional rights,” Hogan said in a statement following the opinion’s release Nov. 7.
The term “gerrymander” comes from the early 1800s, when Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry drew districts favoring his party but which one newspaper likened to the shape of a salamander.
According to a news release issued Monday from Hogan’s office, his executive order calls for a nonpartisan commission to submit a new map for the 6th District for public comment by March 4. It would then go to the General Assembly by April 2.
Historically, the 6th District included western Maryland and stretched along the northern state line into Harford County. For 20 years, it was represented by Republican Roscoe Bartlett.
Following the 2010 U.S. Census, the state undertook mandatory redistricting efforts to ensure the new population figures maintained the standard of “one man, one vote.”
When the lines for the 6th District were redrawn, it retained Garrett, Washington and Allegany counties. But rather than continue through the northern parts of Frederick, Carroll, Baltimore and Harford counties, it turned south to pick up a large portion of Montgomer y County.
Of Maryland’s eight congressional districts, the 1st and 6th were seen as Republican strongholds. Following the 2011 redistricting, the 6th turned Democrat.
In his Nov. 7 opinion, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Paul V. Niemeyer said the court will enter an injunction barring the state from holding any additional elections for the U.S. House of Representatives under the 2011 redistricting plan and directs the state to promptly adopt new districts addressing the constitutional violations found regarding the 6th District.
“While the State argues that a permanent injunction will be unduly disruptive, we note our judgment is being issued two years before the next general election — a time period that will allow the state to comply in an orderly fashion,” Niemeyer wrote. “(W)e believe that redrawing district lines to comply with the Constitution will not sow any additional confusion beyond that caused by the illegal lines themselves.”
Niemeyer found that the state burdened the targeted Republican voters’ representational rights and their right of association “as demonstrated by voter confusion, diminished participation in Republican organizational efforts in the Sixth District, and diminished Republican participation in voting, as well as decreased Republican fundraising.”
“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. “This targeting of a citizen’s viewpoint is typical of First Amendment violations in other contexts.”
Hogan, a Republican, has repeatedly raised issues about the redistricting process and the maps approved under the watch of O’Malley, a Democrat. Hogan is using this month’s ruling on the 6th District as another chance to push for redistricting to become a non-political process.
“Free and fair elections are the very foundation of American democracy and the most basic promise that those in power can pledge to the citizens we represent,” Hogan said Monday. “This unanimous ruling was a victory for the overwhelming majority of Marylanders who value fairness and balance in our political system — who are fed up with the divisive partisan politics that are used to suppress any honest debate or real competition of ideas.”
GOV. LARRY HOGAN