Ten days after a judge tossed out Maryland’s congressional plan for “extreme partisan gerrymandering,” legislative leaders dropped their appeal and Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) signed a redrawn map into law Monday.
Hogan’s signature capped off an unprecedented scramble to craft a new proposal by lawmakers. Senior Judge Lynne A. Battaglia ruled on March 25 that the new map violated the Maryland constitution’s requirement that legislative districts be compact and respect natural and political boundaries, a new interpretation of the longstanding constitutional provision.
Legislative leaders unveiled a new map last Monday evening and it received approval from both the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates by Wednesday. Hogan didn’t act immediately when the new map reached his desk Thursday, and Battaglia said at a Friday hearing that she couldn’t definitively rule on the new proposal since the bill hadn’t been fully enacted.
The Attorney General’s office appealed Battaglia’s ruling to the Court of Appeals last week, but legislative leaders opted not to pursue that appeal in favor of the redrawn map. Hogan indicated over the weekend that he was having conversations with legislative leaders and the Attorney General’s office over the new map.
“We all came to an agreement that it was something they should not pursue, throwing out the judge’s order,” Hogan said.
Hogan was joined by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) in a private signing ceremony Monday afternoon.
“This map is a huge step in the right direction,” Hogan said at a press conference afterward. “It’s not perfect, and there’s still some issues that I think could be corrected, but it’s miles away from the really incredibly gerrymandered map that was thrown out by court.”
In a joint statement about the decision to move forward this way, Jones and Ferguson said election officials “need to have certainty about what the Congressional districts look like” ahead of the already delayed July 19 primary.
Battaglia found that the congressional map enacted by lawmakers over Hogan’s veto during a December special session specifically violated Article III, Section 4 of the Maryland Constitution, which requires compactness and respect for natural and political boundaries in legislative districts. That provision has historically been interpreted to apply only to state legislative districts, though Battaglia noted that challenges to congressional maps hadn’t previously been brought in state courts.
“The trial judge’s novel interpretation of the Maryland Constitution, continued delays, and lack of clear direction in the appeals process are not in the public’s best interest,” Jones and Ferguson said in their statement.
“It is the job of the General Assembly to craft new maps after the census that comply with the law,” the joint statement reads. “We believe we have now done that with the Congressional map twice. In the interest of democracy, we have presented the Governor with this new Congressional map and believe it complies with the trial court judge’s brand new legal standards. We are hopeful the Governor’s signature will bring an end to the unnecessary confusion for everyone involved.”
Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) reiterated the sentiment in a statement Monday morning. “This map, like the one previously passed by the General Assembly, is Constitutional and fair. Both sides have agreed to dismiss their appeals, and our state can move forward to the primary election.”
The new map includes major shakeups to longstanding district lines, including a 2nd District that now extends from Carroll County to northern Baltimore just south of Towson and a 5th District that no longer includes College Park with Southern Maryland.
The 1st District, which in a map enacted by lawmakers in December would’ve crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to include parts of Anne Arundel County with the Eastern Shore to be more competitive for Democrats, now includes all of Harford County and parts of eastern Baltimore County with the Eastern Shore to be solidly Republican.
And the 6th District would be more competitive for Republicans, including all of Frederick County and less of Montgomery County.
During debate last week, Democrats said that the average perimeter of new districts is more than 100 miles shorter than the average perimeter of districts in the previous map.
Battaglia also concluded that the original plan violated portions of the Maryland Declaration of Rights dealing with free speech, equal protection and “free and frequent” elections.
Battaglia’s ruling came after a four-day trial in the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in March for a pair of challenges to Maryland’s congressional map. One of those lawsuits, Szeliga v. Lamone, was brought by Republican voters from all eight of Maryland’s congressional districts and contended that the new map violated the state constitution by diluting Republican votes; another challenge, brought by Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington) and the national conservative group Judicial Watch, likewise contended that the map violated the state constitution.
Parrott, a candidate for the Congress in the 6th District for the second straight election cycle, said the new map, though imperfect, “is much, much better than the map that was approved by the General Assembly in December.”
“I’ve been fighting this for 10 years,” he said. “I didn’t think there was any way they could make it worse than they did 10 years ago, but they did. So I think this is a victory for the state of Maryland.”
Asked if he was satisfied that the 6th District was sufficiently competitive, Parrott said he was sorry that Carroll County was cut out of the district, but was glad that Frederick County was unified back into the 6th, providing a “solid Western Maryland base” in the district.
“I think it’s a fairer map” for the 6th, Parrott said. “I’m really looking forward to running against David Trone. It’s going to be a competitive race and I think the people will finally have a say.”
Parrott also predicted that Battaglia’s court ruling could have some bearing on future redistricting battles in the state, even if it didn’t result in a precedent-setting Court of Appeals decision.
“Judge Battaglia’s ruling will stand and that will be part of the record on this case,” he said.
Last week, Trone (D) acknowledged that the redrawn congressional map could endanger him in future elections.
“Some have said that the new design of the Sixth District endangers my chance of being re-elected and makes this a swing district,” he said in a statement. “I don’t disagree. But my concern with the new district map has nothing to do with how it affects me but rather how it affects one particular group of voters.”
Trone argued that the redrawn map should have extended further south along the Potomac River in Montgomery County. He said those unincorporated areas in western Montgomery County “have constituted a community of interest since the earliest days of Maryland, an association that only increased when the C & O Canal was built beside the Potomac in the early 19th Century and, later, by the original path of the B&O Railroad.”
Trone has contributed an additional $2 million toward his re-election campaign, and lauded the new map in a Monday press release.
“With Governor Hogan’s agreement to sign the new map legislation and the agreement to withdraw appeals to the judge’s rulings, this round of congressional redistricting in Maryland apparently has reached its conclusion,” Trone said. “That’s a good thing. It’s a small but important step toward ending partisan gerrymandering. Being disadvantaged by this process is a price I am willing to pay to move Maryland and our country forward. What we now need is a national solution — and for all elected officials across the country to get back to dealing with issues important to those we were elected to represent.”
Democratic House Majority Leader U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D), who has represented the 5th District for more than 40 years, announced his expected reelection bid in the redrawn district Monday. Hoyer said he was “disappointed” that his district would no longer include College Park, he said he would continue to advocate for that community and others in Prince George’s County that are no longer in the district.
Heather R. Mizeur, a former state delegate and 1st District Democratic candidate, said in a statement that she still intends to unseat incumbent U.S. Rep. Andrew P. Harris, Maryland’s lone congressional Republican.
“The message of this campaign has been consistent from day one, and it has never relied on where the lines of a map are drawn,” Mizeur said. “We have gathered unprecedented support and momentum that includes all parties and ideologies.”
R. David Harden, a Democratic 1st District candidate and foreign policy strategist, called the redrawn map “constitutional and fair” in a statement.
Harden, who has positioned himself as a moderate, contended that Mizeur won’t be able to win in the newly redrawn, more conservative 1st District.
Former Secretary of State John T. Willis, who testified on behalf of the state during the congressional redistricting trial, said he doesn’t think Battaglia’s ruling necessarily sets a precedent in Maryland. He expects their to be another decade of intense conversations about redistricting reform following this round of mapmaking.
“I’m not sure it’s precedent-setting,” Willis said. “I think what happened this cycle may lead to more change.”
He said one idea that could be floated in Maryland going forward is having a independent redistricting commission be entirely responsible for drawing maps, like in Arizona. Hogan has agitated and introduced legislation to establish such a process throughout his tenure.
Maryland saw two redistricting commissions conduct public hearing and propose maps last year:
- The Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, convened by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), put forward the map that Battaglia struck down. Jones and Ferguson were both members of that panel, alongside two other Democratic legislative leaders and two Republican legislative leaders.
- The Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission was convened by Hogan and included three Republicans, three Democrats and three unaffiliated voters. Hogan appointed the panel’s three co-chairs, who selected the other six members of the commission. That panel’s congressional and legislative maps received high marks from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project for compactness and partisan fairness, whereas analysts at Princeton gave the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission’s congressional map an “F” rating based on those same criteria.
In separate interviews, House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery), who was intimately involved in the redistricting process, and Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Baltimore City), an adjunct law professor at University of Baltimore and University of Maryland School of Law, said they weren’t sure Battaglia’s order would be cited as precedent in the future.
Both noted that Battaglia was acting as a senior judge on the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, and that there was never a written opinion on the case from the Maryland Court of Appeals.
“It’s the opinion of a trial court judge,” Rosenberg said. “So it does not have the same precedential weight of a Court of Appeals opinion.”
“I’m not sure how courts will look at that a decade from now,” Luedtke said. “Bottom line is, we have a map.”
By Bennett Leckrone. Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.