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Government & Politics

House of Delegates Gives Final Approval to Court-Ordered Redraw of Congressional Map

House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery) defends a redrawn congressional district plan on the House floor on Wednesday. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The Maryland House of Delegates gave final approval to a redrawn congressional map Wednesday afternoon, capping off the new plan’s speedy run through the General Assembly after a judge tossed out the state’s previous districts less than a week ago.

The 94-41 vote in the House came less than 48 hours after the new map was unveiled Monday evening in the Maryland Senate. Legislative leaders fast-tracked the bill’s move through the state Senate and House of Delegates to comply with a judge’s order to finalize a new congressional plan by Wednesday.

Just after the House vote, the Office of the Attorney General announced that it had filed a notice to appeal the decision by Senior Judge Lynne A. Battaglia, who threw out the legislature’s original redistricting plan following a four-day trial in the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court earlier this month. The enactment of redrawn map passed Wednesday is contingent on the outcome of the appeal.

The court-ordered redistricting plan is expected to be presented to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) on Thursday.

The governor has made it known that he wants the General Assembly to pass a map enacted by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission he convened. Whether Hogan would veto the new map, which more closely respects county lines and creates a 6th District that would be more competitive for Republicans, was unclear Wednesday evening. A spokesperson for Hogan did not return a request for comment Wednesday.

Features in the redrawn map include a 1st District that no longer crosses the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and instead becomes solidly Republican; a 5th District that no longer includes College Park; a 2nd District that extends from northern parts of Baltimore to Carroll County; an absence of the 3rd District’s former snake-like shape and a closer adherence to county boundaries as a whole.

But Republicans still say the map is a gerrymander, pointing to the 6th District still including areas in central Montgomery County like Gaithersburg and lumping in a small part of southern Carroll County with Howard and parts of Anne Arundel counties in the 3rd District.

During debate, Republican delegates opposed the map and attempted to resurrect the redistricting plan put forward by Hogan’s Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, just as they had during the December special session. That panel, which included three Republicans, three Democrats and three unaffiliated voters, produced a map that largely adheres to county boundaries and would likely result in a 6-2 partisan breakdown. Their proposal received high marks from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project for compactness and partisan fairness.

Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington), who is a Republican 6th Congressional District candidate and brought one of the challenges to the state’s December congressional map, introduced the unsuccessful amendment to resurrect the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission plan Wednesday.

The Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission’s map would’ve included Carroll County and much less of Montgomery County in the 6th District, a configuration that would’ve made the district more favorable to Republicans. Parrott is currently running against Rep. David Trone (D).

House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D) criticized the panel, noting it was appointed by Hogan, and that the General Assembly had previously voted down the proposal. Parrott’s amendment failed in a 42-92 vote.

Key to the redrawn map will be compliance with Article III, Section 4 of the Maryland Constitution, which stipulates that legislative districts be compact and respect natural and political boundaries. Although that provision has historically been interpreted to apply only to state legislative districts, Battaglia concluded that the provision should also apply to congressional districts.

Battaglia, a former Court of Appeals Judge, also called the December map an “extreme partisan gerrymander” that violated parts of the Maryland Declaration of Rights dealing with free speech, equal protection and “free and frequent” elections.

Parrott and other Republicans argue that the new map doesn’t do enough to comport with Article III, Section 4, pointing to the way the 2nd District dips into norther Baltimore and the way the 7th District stretches west into some areas of Baltimore County.

Del. Mark N. Fisher (R-Calvert) pressed House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery) on the speedy map-making process after Battaglia’s ruling and why Republicans weren’t part of the drawing; Luedtke said Department of Legislative Services staff drew up the map in consultation with the Attorney General’s office over the weekend. Fisher described the map as “prettier” but said it is still a gerrymander.

Luedtke said the map is “significantly more compact” than the previous proposal, and emphasized that standards for compactness and minimizing county splits weren’t previously applied to congressional districts. He said that the average perimeter of new districts is more than 100 miles shorter than the average perimeter of districts in the previous map.

House Minority Leader Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany), an attorney himself, said he wasn’t bothered by the speedy process after the court’s order — and likewise said he felt the map looked better at a glance. But he underscored Battaglia’s finding that the December plan suppressed Republican votes and violated portions of the Maryland Declaration of Rights.

“What we did was the product of partisan gerrymandering and I believe unfortunately what we continue to do in this bill will meet the same result,” Buckel said.