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Senate Democratic Majority Sends Redistricting Plan to Hogan’s Desk

Senate Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) argues against a congressional redistricting proposal on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The Maryland Senate passed a legislative advisory panel’s congressional redistricting proposal in a party-line vote Wednesday afternoon, setting the stage for a veto from Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R).

Hogan has said he would oppose any map that differs from the one proposed by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, a multi-partisan panel he created via executive order earlier this year, but Democrats hold a veto-proof majority in both the House of Delegate and the state Senate, and have already overridden the Hogan’s vetoes on several measures from the 2021 legislative session this week.

Sen. Edward R. Reilly (R-Anne Arundel) introduced an amendment earlier in the day to switch the legislative redistricting panel’s maps with those proposed by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, but that amendment was voted down 15-32. House Minority Leader Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany) introduced a similar amendment in the House of Delegates on Tuesday, but that amendment was likewise rejected before lawmakers advanced the redistricting plan to the Senate.

Reilly was critical of the 1st Congressional District proposed by the LRAC, which crosses the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to include portions of Anne Arundel County with the Eastern Shore to make that district more competitive.

That district is currently home to Maryland’s lone congressional Republican, Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R).

Harris has handily won reelection in the currently drawn district, which substantially favors Republicans after Democrats opted to redraw the state’s 6th Congressional District in 2012 to lean Democratic.

Reilly said he believes the new boundaries are drawn “for the purpose of removing the sole remaining Republican congressman.”

“And I find that problematic,” he said.

When the Senate returned for a second floor session to finalize the redistricting proposal, Reilly alluded to possible litigation.

“This is not a final decision,” Reilly said. “This could be taken out of our hands by the courts.”

Eastern Shore residents who testified at a statewide virtual LRAC public hearing in November urged commission members to adopt a draft proposal that included much more of Anne Arundel County with the Eastern Shore and would have more strongly favored Democrats, citing Harris’ objection to the 2020 election results after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. At a later in-person public hearing, however, Cecil County residents opposed that more aggressive plan because their county would not have been included with the rest of the Eastern Shore.

Commission members eventually proposed a map that included a central portion of Anne Arundel County and moves the district into tossup territory.

Compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act was a key point during Wednesday morning’s floor debate, with some Senate Republicans questioning whether the LRAC redistricting plan does enough to reflect Maryland’s growing diversity and noting that less than half of Marylanders identified as white for the first time in the 2020 Census.

The LRAC map includes two majority Black districts — the 4th and the 7th — and creates a 5th Congressional District with a Black plurality for a total of three districts with a majority people of color. In the current congressional map, the 4th and 7th are majority Black and the 5th has a white plurality.

The Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission map would have included one majority Black district and three additional districts with a majority people of color.

Lawsuits over redistricting plans elsewhere in the United States have centered on the Voting Rights Act, which was enacted in 1965 to end racially discriminatory voting practices.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced a lawsuit on Monday over Texas’ redistricting plan that the state’s Republican-led legislature approved in October. Garland charged that redistricting plan would disempower Black and Latino voters.

Sen. Stephen S. Hershey (R-Middle Shore) suggested Garland should scrutinize the proposed LRAC plan as well if it becomes law.

“He needs to take a look at exactly what we’re doing here in Maryland with respect to the same reason that he’s suing the state of Texas,” Hershey said.

Senate President Pro Tem Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s), a member of the LRAC, said the commission was “very mindful” of complying with the Voting Rights Act.

“I’m confident that we have provided the opportunity for minority voters to vote for their preferred candidate, as we intended,” Griffith said.

Senate Majority Leader Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) addressed another hotly debated aspect of the map: compactness. Republicans in the House and Senate have criticized the LRAC map for its various county splits and highlighted the fact that the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission both started with a blank slate and attempted to minimize county splits in their congressional map.

Democrats have said compactness is secondary to compliance with the Voting Rights Act and minimizing population variances.

“Maryland’s geography is unique, and our population is varied,” King said. “Taking all that into consideration, I am confident that this map is a fair one, and one that reflects the lived experience of Marylanders.”

Senate Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) described the congressional redistricting process as “pre-baked” and said Republicans in the General Assembly haven’t had much of a say on the congressional lines.

“We were basically non-existent in developing maps,” Simonaire, a member of the LRAC, said.

Simonaire was also critical of the composition of the LRAC, which was created by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County). Jones and Ferguson, alongside two other Democratic legislative leaders and two Republican legislative leaders, are members of that commission. The LRAC is chaired by Karl Aro, a former head of the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services.

Sen. Ronald N. Young (D-Frederick) noted that Republicans have more power over redistricting nationwide, and said Democratic lawmakers shouldn’t relent their power over Maryland’s redistricting process until gerrymandering is banned under federal law.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky said that if Republicans are against gerrymandering, they should support the federal For The People Act, which would require nonpartisan redistricting commissions across the country. That legislation, sponsored by Maryland Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D), passed the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year but has been blocked by Republicans in the Senate.

“You can’t separate what happens outside of Maryland from what we do,” Pinsky said.

Ferguson said he supports working with current districts as opposed to starting from a blank slate, and described the newly adopted redistricting proposal as an improvement on current maps.

“It is more fair, it is more balanced, it is more compact, it is more contiguous,” Ferguson said.

Legislators are expected to remain in Annapolis through this week. If Hogan vetoes the redistricting proposal, Democrats could act swiftly to override the veto.

If enacted, the map is likely to face a court challenge.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated after the Senate’s evening floor session. 

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Senate Democratic Majority Sends Redistricting Plan to Hogan’s Desk