Maryland Judge Throws Out Congressional District Map
ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, Md. — A Maryland Circuit Court judge on Friday struck down the state’s new congressional district map, calling it an “extreme gerrymander” that blatantly ignored requirements that voting districts be compact and respect communities of interest and existing political subdivisions.
The 94-page ruling by Senior Judge Lynne Battaglia, who presides in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, is historic in that it is the first time a congressional map has been found to violate the state constitution.
Outgoing Republican Gov. Larry Hogan called the ruling “a monumental victory for every Marylander who cares about protecting our democracy, bringing fairness to our elections, and putting the people back in charge.”
“This is a historic milestone in our fight to clean up the political process in our state, and ensure that the voices of the people we are elected to serve are finally heard,” he added.
But milestones often lead to complications, and that’s certainly the case in Maryland, where Judge Battaglia has enjoined the map from being used in this year’s primary and general elections and ordered the General Assembly to draw and submit a new map to the court by next Wednesday, March 30.
A spokesperson for the Maryland Attorney General’s Office told The Well News in an email that the office “is currently reviewing the decision” and that it had not made a decision about whether to appeal.
Battaglia’s sweeping decision took the mapmakers to task for violating the state constitution’s equal protection, free speech and free elections clauses, and said the net result of their work was a congressional districting plan that “subordinates constitutional criteria to political considerations.”
She added, “All of the testimony in this case supports the notion 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.”
The congressional map drawn under the watchful eye of the Democrats who control the state Legislature would have virtually guaranteed the party winning seven of the state’s House seats — or roughly 87% of the seats.
Battaglia felt the percentage indicated that an extra toe was being placed on the political scale in a state that President Joe Biden carried with 65% of the vote in 2020 — a 22 percentage point difference.
In addition, the new map made the district currently represented by the state’s only Republican incumbent in Congress, Rep. Andy Harris, much more competitive than in past elections.
Among those applauding Judge Battaglia’s ruling Friday afternoon was Fair Maps Maryland, a Republican-aligned group that had supported the challenge to the districting plan the state Legislature passed in December.
“To call this a big deal would be the understatement of the century,” the group said in a statement posted to its website. “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. Marylanders have been fighting for free and fair elections for decades and for the first time in our state’s shameful history of gerrymandering, we are at the precipice of ending it.
“Not only did the judge rule in favor of our plaintiffs, but she confirmed that there is Maryland state law that applies to partisan gerrymandering, something the attorney general’s office vigorously argued against. This would be massive news in its own right but combined with a favorable ruling, it’s a political earthquake,” the statement said, adding, “This is a win for democracy, plain and simple.”
Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue
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