Monday is 30 days before the beginning of the 2020 Maryland General Assembly session. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) plans to introduce the Redistricting Reform Act on the first day of the session.
When a divided United States Supreme Court last June shot its message to anti-gerrymanders, it made clear that it would not stop state legislatures that draw maps to restrict the political power of minority parties. Chief Justice John Roberts said in his 5-4 decision, which was partially based on a challenge to Maryland’s congressional boundaries, that while the court doesn’t condone “excessive partisan gerrymandering,” it’s up to Congress and state courts to resolve the issue.
Sorry, not our problem. Please contact your state government.
Ashley Oleson, state director of the League of Women Voters of Maryland, said in response, “I hope that legislators in the state will now see that it is up to them to right this wrong.”
Could Marylanders end gerrymandering in the Free State? Hope springs eternal.
“We’re happy to hear that Governor Hogan has taken the Common Cause’s ‘End Gerrymandering Pledge,’ to end gerrymandering and support fair maps in Maryland,” said Joanne Antoine, executive director of the political reform group Common Cause Maryland last month. “We look forward to working with Governor Hogan and members of the General Assembly to advance non-partisan, non-discriminatory, and transparent redistricting throughout the state.”
But on the Maryland Democratic side, state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said only a national solution would do. House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones said she was “disappointed that the Supreme Court didn’t offer a national solution to what is a national problem.”
Members of Congress have sponsored bills to reform redistricting in the past three decades; however, neither party has shown mass support for such measures.
After micro-researching, I have declared that the best bill could be the “John Tanner Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act,” which was named after former U.S. Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.), a champion of ending the practice of partisan gerrymandering.
Under the Tanner bill, each state would be required to establish an independent, bipartisan redistricting commission to redraw congressional district lines once every 10 years that reflect contiguous communities. These districts would replace gerrymandered districts that protect partisan seats.
The Tanner legislation has been introduced during the last eight sessions of Congress (2005-2019). It has died in committee each time it has been introduced because it has lacked adequate support among leadership to advance.
Still pending in the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, the present Tanner legislation, H.R. 130, is sponsored by a fellow Tennessee Democrat, Rep. Jim Cooper, but has attracted just one co-sponsor, Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.).
Meanwhile, six Democratic members of Congress from Maryland, Reps. Anthony G. Brown; Steny H. Hoyer; Jamie Raskin; C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger; David J. Trone; and the late Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, agreed to co-sponsor H.R. 1 – “For the People Act of 2019,” sponsored by Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D-Md.).
The bill includes a provision that provides for states to establish independent, non-partisan redistricting commissions. (Note: When Raskin was a Maryland senator, he voted against Hogan’s proposal that would have created an independent commission to draw congressional and state legislative districts.)
The Tanner legislation in the 115th Session (2017-18) had 26 co-sponsors, including Hoyer and then-Rep. John K. Delaney (D-Md.). One Congress session earlier (2015-16), four Democratic members from Maryland — Delaney, Hoyer, Ruppersberger, and then-Rep. Chris Van Hollen — joined with 21 other members to co-sponsor the Tanner legislation.
On July 24, 2009, Van Hollen, then the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told Politico that the Tanner legislation “depends on everyone’s perception of how it will impact their state, which is why it’s hard to pass. The states where they think that their numbers will benefit would be for it, those that think that it would work against them …” he said, trailing off. “Which is why you can only go all-in nationally.”
As a former congressional aide, I would suggest that there is a 4% chance of H.R. 1 or H.R. 130 being enacted, according to Skopos Labs.
Back to the State House, might delegates and senators of the 440th Session of the Maryland General Assembly (2020) reconsider the establishment of an independent commission after the Supreme Court ruling moved the battlefield to the states?
Surprisingly, there are enough votes to pass any Maryland legislation to create an independent redistricting commission, based on the answers to the question on redistricting asked by the League of Women Voters of Maryland: “What changes, if any, do you support in the process for drawing congressional and legislative district lines in Maryland?”
Check your legislators’ campaign promises by clicking on the 2018 Voters’ Guide.
— HOWARD GORRELL
The writer is an anti-gerrymandering activist.