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Government & Politics

Court of Appeals Upholds Legislative Map Passed by General Assembly

The Maryland Court of Appeals building. Photo by Bennett Leckrone.

Maryland’s new legislative map will stand, the Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

The Court of Appeals affirmed a report from Special Magistrate Alan M. Wilner recommending that the map remain in place, even in the face of a handful of challenges from Republican voters in the state.

That means that the already-delayed primary election day will remain on July 19, and that a General Assembly candidate needs to live in their district by May 8 to run in the November general election.

The Court of Appeals also ordered Wednesday that the candidate filing deadline will remain on Friday at 9 p.m. and that the deadline to withdraw a candidacy will be Monday.

The court’s brief order was released around 5 p.m., just hours after a 2 1/2 hour hearing in Annapolis earlier in the day.

A lengthier written opinion is expected to be filed later. The order signed by Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty on Wednesday stated that the high court judges agreed that the legislative redistricting plan enacted into law in January by a Democratic majority in the General Assembly met with the requirements of the U.S. and Maryland constitutions.

Challengers contended that the map passed by the General Assembly earlier this year violated a state constitutional requirement that legislative districts be compact and respect natural and political boundaries — but Wilner wrote that the petitioners didn’t do enough to prove traditional redistricting criteria were subverted for political considerations.

“A comparison of the current plan with the one it replaces shows that an attempt was made to keep voters in their current districts, with which they are familiar, and to avoid crossing political or natural boundary lines except when required to achieve or maintain population equality,” Wilner wrote. “Suggestions in the petitions that political considerations played a role were all on ‘information and belief’ and were not supported by any compelling evidence.”

During the hearing on objections to Wilner’s report Wednesday morning, challengers argued again that that the map violated the state constitution and should be thrown out, but an attorney for the state pushed back on their claims and argued that the districts were adjusted mainly to reflect population changes since the last decennial Census.

The state legislative map largely mirrors previous district lines, but it also bolsters several potentially vulnerable Democrats for re-election.

In a joint statement, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) praised the Court of Appeals for “recognizing the General Assembly followed the Maryland and U.S. Constitutions when drawing a new state map.”
“Additionally, we are pleased that candidates, voters and election officials can begin preparing for the July 19 primary election,” Jones and Ferguson wrote. “Democracy has been well served today.”

State officials warned in a Monday court filing that, with the already pushed back primary fast approaching, election officials would struggle to implement any changes to the legislative map in time for the election. Implementing new congressional, legislative and local redistricting plans normally takes local election officials “several months” to complete, Donna Duncan, the assistant deputy administrator for election policy at the State Board of Elections, wrote in an affidavit.

“Redistricting on the timetable presented by this year’s election calendar was going to be extremely challenging even in the absence of any legal challenges to the newly passed maps,” Duncan wrote.

The ruling came just a day before Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty turned 70 — the mandatory retirement age for judges in Maryland.

Fair Maps Maryland, an anti-gerrymandering group with ties to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R),  slammed the ruling in a statement.

“The idea that the same toxic process that produced the unconstitutional congressional map also produced a constitutional legislative map is inconceivable,” Doug Mayer, a spokesperson for the group and former communications strategist to Hogan, said in a release.

An interactive version of the legislative map is available here.