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Government & Politics

Republican Delegates Ask Court of Appeals to Throw Out New Legislative Map

Del. Mark N. Fisher points to a district map on the House floor
Del. Mark N. Fisher (R-Calvert) opposes the contours of the 27th Legislative District during debate on the floor of the House of Delegates. Photo by Bennett Leckrone.

Fair Maps Maryland, an anti-gerrymandering group, and three Republican state delegates announced a petition challenging the state’s new legislative districts Thursday.

The case filed with the Court of Appeals charges that the legislative redistricting plan enacted by lawmakers in January violates the state’s constitution by intentionally diluting Republican votes and crossing county borders.

The petitioners are Del. Mark N. Fisher (R-Calvert), Del. Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) and Del. Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore and Harford counties). Fisher, Kipke and Szeliga charge that 13 of 47 senatorial districts — including their own — violate the state’s constitution.

The trio argue that districts 7, 9, 12, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27, 31, 33, 42, and 47 violate the state constitution’s requirements for respecting natural boundaries and political subdivisions. The petition wants the Maryland Court of Appeals, which has original jurisdiction over legislative redistricting challenges, to declare the redistricting plan unconstitutional and require lawmakers to draw a new map.

The petition also requests that, if the General Assembly doesn’t enact a new legislative redistricting plan that “complies with the Maryland Constitution and Declaration of Rights in a timely fashion,” the plan put forward by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission convened by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) be put in place instead.

The new legislative map, which tweaked current districts to account for population changes over the past decade, shores up several vulnerable Democrats for re-election and reduces the number of Senate districts in the city of Baltimore by one.

The boundaries were drawn up by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, a panel established by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County).

Jones and Ferguson were both members of that commission, alongside Senate President Pro Tem Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s), House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery), House Minority Leader Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany) and Senate Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel). That panel was chaired by Karl Aro, a former head of the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services.

“It is based really on the districts that have been in existence for a long time, making the necessary changes for population, Voting Rights Act concerns,” and complying with constitutional requirements, Aro said when the panel voted along party lines to send their proposal to the General Assembly last month.

The petitioners, however, argue that the listed districts violate the state constitution’s requirement that legislative districts “consist of adjoining territory, be compact in form, and of substantially equal population. Due regard shall be given to natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions.”

They also argued that Szeliga’s District 7, for instance, “fails to give due regard to political subdivisions because it is split between Baltimore County and Harford County” and wrote that there is no direct or easy way to travel from one end of the district to the other.

That district was similarly drawn in the state’s previous of maps, but was split into a single-member delegate subdistrict in Harford County and a two-member delegate subdistrict in Baltimore County in new maps, potentially forcing incumbent Delegates Lauren C. Arikan (R-Harford) and Richard K. Impallaria (R-Harford) to run against each other in future elections.

Petitioners also take issue with District 27, of which Fisher represents a portion of Calvert County. As in previous maps, the district includes portions of Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s counties. The petition argues the district “gives no regard for political subdivisions,” because it includes multiple counties and divides municipalities, and also violates the requirement to respect natural boundaries because it jumps over a stretch of the Patuxent River with no bridge crossings.

The petition singles out multiple Anne Arundel County districts, including District 31, where Kipke represents the two-member subdistrict 31B. Fisher, Kipke and Szeliga argue that Districts 31 and 33 in Anne Arundel County violate the state constitution by carving up communities including Severna Park, and charge that District 31 was drawn to “pack Republican voters into a single legislative district to dilute Republican votes in District 33 and protect the Democratic incumbent in House District 33C.” Del. Heather Bagnall, the only Democrat who currently represents District 33, would be moved into the 33C subdistrict in the new map; she narrowly won the third seat in the district in 2018, edging out then-Del. Tony McConkey (R) by 185 votes.

District 9 in Howard County was redrawn to include a portion of northern Montgomery County rather than southern Carroll County, potentially helping Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D-Howard). Petitioners argue district was “was constructed to intentionally remove a portion of Republican-leaning voters in southern Carroll County, replace them with Democratic-leaning voters in northern Montgomery County, and ensure the election of a Democratic senator.” They also take issue with the district’s split between Montgomery and Howard counties, although it was previously split between Montgomery and Carroll counties.

A total of four petitions were filed against the legislative map on Thursday.

A petition, brought by Delegates Brenda J. Thiam (R-Washington) and Wayne A. Hartman (R-Wicomico), as well as Republican voter and Hampstead resident Patricia Shoemaker, argues that the plan violates the state constitution, as well as the U.S. Constitution because it includes both single- and multi-member districts.

Thiam, Hartman and Shoemaker, the wife of House Minority Whip Haven Shoemaker, argue that the use of both single- and multi-member districts — which is allowed by the state constitution — violates the U.S Constitution’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses.

“Allowing multimember districts to exist and be apportioned for the Maryland House of Delegates violates the ‘one person, one vote’ principle,” their petition reads.

Washington County Republican Central Committee President Seth Wilson also filed a petition, arguing that District 2, which now crosses from Western Maryland into Frederick County was reconfigured without “any compelling reason.” Another petition took issue with the new 1st Congressional District, part of the separate congressional redistricting proposal passed by lawmakers in December.

The cases were filed before a 4:30 p.m. deadline. The state must respond to all petitions by Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., and a scheduling conference will be held virtually on Thursday at 10 a.m.

Hogan has appointed five of the Court of Appeals’ seven judges, including Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty, his former chief legislative officer.

Getty was appointed to the top court in June 2016, and became chief judge last September when then-Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. Getty, 69, will reach the court’s mandatory retirement age in April.