Court rules Maryland’s Dem-drawn congressional map unconstitutional: ‘Extreme partisan gerrymander’

Maryland’s new congressional map was thrown out Friday by a judge who said the districts were the product of “extreme partisan gerrymander,” dealing a major setback to the Democrat-run legislature.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Lynne A. Battaglia handed down the ruling, which was the first time Maryland’s congressional map was found to violate the state’s constitution. State lawmakers will now have to revisit the drawing board to outline Maryland’s eight congressional districts by March 30 — an extraordinarily accelerated timeline for a complex process that often takes weeks or longer.

Judge Battaglia ruled that the map violated the state constitution’s equal protection, free speech and free elections clauses for failing to create compact districts that consider political subdivisions like cities and counties.

“The limitation of the undue extension of power by any branch of government must be exercised to ensure that the will of the people is heard, no matter under which political placard those governing reside. The 2021 Congressional Plan is unconstitutional, and subverts that will of those governed,” Judge Battaglia wrote.

The judge added that she was entering a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs to reject the map and “permanently enjoining its operation, and giving the General Assembly an opportunity to develop new Congressional Plan that is constitutional.”

An appeal by the state is almost certain. Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said the office is reviewing the decision.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said the ruling “puts in plain view the partisan, secretive, and rigged process that led to the legislature’s illegal and unconstitutional maps.”

“For nearly eight years, we have been fighting to end the gerrymandering monopoly that has for too long been a shameful legacy of our state,” he said. “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.”

He called on the General Assembly to immediately pass his proposal for an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

The state legislature, which approved the map in party-line votes in December, is overwhelmingly blue. Only one district, the 1st Congressional District, is currently represented by a Republican, Rep. Andy Harris. The district includes all of Maryland’s rural Eastern Shore and northern reaches of the states as well as northern portions of Baltimore County.

The new map would have secured the seven Democratic seats as strongholds while making Mr. Harris’ district more competitive.

Two Republican groups filed separate legal challenges against the congressional map but were considered together. They included anti-gerrymandering advocacy group Fair Maps Maryland, which has ties to Mr. Hogan, a Republican, and the conservative activist group Judicial Watch, which was on behalf of a coalition of GOP Maryland voters and two Republican congressional candidates.

Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Fair Maps Maryland, which supported the lawsuit, praised the ruling.

“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,” Mayer said. “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.”

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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