Maryland Judge Throws Out Democrats’ Congressional Redistricting Map – The New York Times


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The ruling, in which the judge said Democrats had drawn an “extreme gerrymander,” was the first time this redistricting cycle that the party’s legislators had a congressional map defeated in court.
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A Maryland judge ruled on Friday that Democrats in the state had drawn an “extreme gerrymander” and threw out the state’s new congressional map, the first time this redistricting cycle that a Democratic-controlled legislature’s map has been rejected in court.
The ruling by Senior Judge Lynne A. Battaglia of the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County found that the map drawn by Democrats had “constitutional failings” and ignored requirements of focusing on “compactness” and keeping similar communities together.
“All of the testimony in this case supports the notions that the voice of Republican voters was diluted and their right to vote and be heard with the efficacy of a Democratic voter was diminished,” Judge Battaglia wrote in her opinion.
The congressional map drawn by Democrats would have most likely guaranteed them at least seven of Maryland’s eight House seats, or 87 percent of the state’s seats. President Biden carried the state with 65 percent of the vote in 2020.
Judge Battaglia ordered the General Assembly to redraw the map by March 30, an extraordinarily 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 because of pending legal challenges to the new map.
Democrats across the country have taken a much more aggressive tack this redistricting cycle than they have in the past, seeking to counteract what they have long denounced as extreme Republican gerrymanders from the 2010 cycle. Republicans’ map-drawing gains that year helped the party maintain power in the House of Representatives despite a Democratic victory at the presidential level 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 looking to aggressively add new seats this cycle, Republicans, for the most part, have sought to shore up their previous advantages in gerrymandered maps in states like Texas and Georgia, removing competition and packing Democrats together in deeply blue districts.
Maryland was one of the few states during the last redistricting cycle where Democrats enacted an aggressive gerrymander, pushing to add a Democratic seat to the state’s delegation, which consisted of six Democrats and two Republicans at the time. The eventual map added a batch of new Democratic voters to the Sixth District, leading to the defeat of Representative Roscoe Bartlett, a 20-year Republican incumbent.
Former Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat and former presidential candidate, has since acknowledged in a court deposition that the goal of the last redistricting process was to draw a map that was “more likely to elect more Democrats rather than less.”
Judge Battaglia’s decision comes as state courts have emerged as a central battleground for parties and voters to challenge maps by calling them partisan gerrymanders, after a 2019 Supreme Court ruling that partisan gerrymandering could not be challenged at the federal level. This year, state courts in Ohio and North Carolina have tossed out maps drawn by legislators as unconstitutional gerrymanders.
Judge Battaglia, who was appointed by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, is a former U.S. attorney in 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 of the map was overridden by the Democratic-controlled legislature, praised the decision and called on the General Assembly to pass a map drawn by an independent commission he created.
“This ruling is a monumental victory for every Marylander who cares about protecting our democracy, bringing fairness to our elections, and putting the people back in charge,” Mr. Hogan said in a statement.
The office of Brian Frosh, the attorney general of Maryland and a Democrat, said that it was reviewing the decision and that it had not yet decided whether to appeal it.
What is redistricting? It’s the redrawing of the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts. It happens every 10 years, after the census, to reflect changes in population.
Why is it important this year? With an extremely slim Democratic margin in the House of Representatives, simply redrawing maps in a few key states could determine control of Congress in 2022.
How does it work? The census dictates how many seats in Congress each state will get. Mapmakers then work to ensure that a state’s districts all have roughly the same number of residents, to ensure equal representation in the House.
Who draws the new maps? Each state has its own process. Eleven states leave the mapmaking to an outside panel. But most — 39 states — have state lawmakers draw the new maps for Congress.
If state legislators can draw their own districts, won’t they be biased? Yes. Partisan mapmakers often move district lines — subtly or egregiously — to cluster voters in a way that advances a political goal. This is called gerrymandering.
What is gerrymandering? It refers to the intentional distortion of district maps to give one party an advantage. While all districts must have roughly the same population, mapmakers can make subjective decisions to create a partisan tilt.
Is gerrymandering legal? Yes and no. In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts have no role to play in blocking partisan gerrymanders. However, the court left intact parts of the Voting Rights Act that prohibit racial or ethnic gerrymandering.
Want to know more about redistricting and gerrymandering? Times reporters answer your most pressing questions here.
Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general and the chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, also commended the ruling, and called on Republicans to apply the same standards across the country.
“The judge is right and the legislature is not wrong,” Mr. Holder said in a statement. “An adherence to fairness and democracy principles may result in a map not significantly different than the one initially drawn.”
He continued: “The principles outlined by Judge Battaglia are sound. I hope the Maryland legislature will follow them in the court-mandated redraw. And those Republicans who support the court in Maryland should also support the application of these principles across the nation — in states like Texas, Wisconsin, Georgia and Florida.”
Fair Maps Maryland, a Republican-aligned group that supported the challenge to the state’s districts, celebrated the decision in a statement.
“To call this 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 have all known for years — Maryland is ground zero for gerrymandering, our districts and political reality reek of it, and there is abundant proof that it is occurring.”
The decision was also praised by outside groups that have sought to overhaul the country’s redistricting process.
“Maryland’s congressional map is a textbook example of extreme partisan gerrymandering, and the court is right to scrap it,” Joshua Graham Lynn, the chief executive of RepresentUs, a bipartisan voting rights advocacy group, said in a statement. “We’ve seen time and time again this redistricting cycle: When politicians of either party are in control of drawing maps, they’re going to rig districts to lock in as much power as possible.”
Alyce McFadden contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy contributed research.
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