Maryland judge rejects Democrats’ congressional redistricting map

A Maryland judge ruled Friday that Democrats in the state drew an “extreme gerrymander” and rejected the state’s new congressional map, the first time this redistricting cycle where the map of a legislature controlled by the Democrats was thrown out in court.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Senior Judge Lynne A. Battaglia’s ruling found that the map drawn by Democrats had “constitutional flaws” and ignored requirements to focus on “compactness” and to keep similar communities together.

“All of the evidence in this case supports the idea that the voice of Republican voters has been diluted and their right to vote and be heard with the effectiveness of a Democratic voter has been diminished,” Judge Battaglia wrote. in his opinion.

The map of Congress drawn by the Democrats would most likely have guaranteed them at least seven of Maryland’s eight House seats, or 87% of the state’s seats. President Biden won the state with 65% of the vote in 2020.

Judge Battaglia ordered the General Assembly to redraw the map by March 30, an extremely tight deadline for a complicated process that often takes weeks, and she set a hearing for the new map for April 1. This year, the Maryland Court of Appeals moved the state’s primary election from June 28 to July 19 due to ongoing legal challenges to the new map.

Democrats across the country have taken a far more aggressive approach to this redistricting round than in the past, seeking to counter what they have long denounced as extreme Republican gerrymanders of the 2010 cycle. that year helped the party maintain power in the House of Representatives despite a Democratic presidential victory in 2012.

Democratic state legislatures in New York, Illinois and Oregon drew new maps this year that would have given them a significant advantage over Republicans — and congressional delegations at odds with the overall partisan tilt of each state.

Rather than seek to aggressively add new seats this cycle, Republicans, for the most part, have sought to consolidate their prior advantages in gerrymandered maps in states like Texas and Georgia, suppressing competition and consolidating Democrats into deeply blue districts.

Maryland was one of the few states in the last redistricting cycle where Democrats embraced an aggressive Gerrymander, pushing to add a Democratic seat to the state’s delegation, which at the time consisted of six Democrats and two Republicans. The final map added a batch of new Democratic voters to the Sixth District, resulting in the defeat of Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican incumbent for 20 years.

Former Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat and former presidential candidate, has since acknowledged in court deposition that the goal of the latest redistricting process was to draw a map that was “more likely to elect more Democrats than less”.

Judge Battaglia’s ruling comes as state courts have become a central battleground for parties and voters to challenge maps as partisan gerrymanders, after a 2019 Supreme Court ruling that found gerrymandering partisan could not be challenged at the federal level. This year, state courts in Ohio and North Carolina dismissed the maps drawn by lawmakers as unconstitutional gerrymanders.

Judge Battaglia, who was nominated by former Governor Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, is a former US attorney from Maryland. She also served as chief of staff to former Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland.

Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican whose veto on the map was overridden by the Democratic-controlled legislature, welcomed the decision and called on the General Assembly to adopt a map drawn by an independent commission he has created.

“This decision is a monumental victory for every Marylander who cares about protecting our democracy, ensuring the fairness of our elections, and putting the people back in control,” Hogan said in a statement.

The office of Brian Frosh, attorney general of Maryland and Democrat, said it is reviewing the decision and has not yet decided whether to appeal.

Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general and chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, also welcomed the decision and called on Republicans to apply the same standards across the country.

“The judge is right and the lawmaker is not wrong,” Holder said in a statement. “Adhering to the principles of fairness and democracy may result in a map not significantly different from the one originally drawn.”

He continued: “The principles set out by Judge Battaglia are valid. I hope the Maryland Legislature follows them in the court-mandated reshuffle. And Republicans who support the Maryland court should also support the application of these principles across the country – in states like Texas, Wisconsin, Georgia and Florida.

Fair Maps Maryland, a Republican-aligned group that has backed contesting districts in the state, celebrated the decision in a statement.

“To call it a big deal would be the understatement of the century,” said Doug Mayer, a spokesman for the group. “Judge Battaglia’s ruling confirms what we’ve all known for years – Maryland is ground zero for gerrymandering, our districts and political reality smack of it, and there’s plenty of evidence that it’s happening.”

The decision was also welcomed by outside groups who have sought to overhaul the country’s redistricting process.

“The Maryland Congressional map is a classic example of extreme partisan gerrymandering, and the court is right to drop it,” Joshua Graham Lynn, chief executive of RepresentUs, a bipartisan voting rights group, said in a statement. communicated. “We’ve seen this redistricting cycle time and time again: when politicians from either party control the making of the maps, they’re going to rig the districts to lock in as much power as possible.”

Alyce McFadden contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy contributed to the research.

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