Maryland congressional redistricting trial continues as plaintiffs’ experts conclude testimony

Legal challenges to Maryland’s congressional district map will continue after an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge rejected the state’s claim that the plaintiffs had failed to prove their case.

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Legal challenges to Maryland’s congressional district map will continue after an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge rejected the state’s claim that the plaintiffs had failed to prove their case.

Solicitor General Steven M. Sullivan argued Wednesday afternoon that the plaintiffs had not shown that they would be personally harmed by the new card, nor had they presented a standard under Maryland law according to which the card could be rejected due to partisan considerations.

Senior Judge Lynne A. Battaglia denied Sullivan’s motion, noting that both plaintiffs’ witnesses spoke about the potential negative effects the card could have on Republican voters.

Strider Dickson represents eight Republican voters challenging the state’s Congressional map, all of whom say they plan to vote Republicans in the future and blame being hamstrung by the new map passed by the General Assembly in December.

The trial began Tuesday and included testimony from two political analysts who said Maryland’s new congressional districts are not compact and are diluting the power of Republican voters. The plaintiffs closed their case on Wednesday after their experts concluded, and the trial is expected to continue until Friday.

Two challenges to the new Maryland congressional map have been consolidated for trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. A trial, Szeliga v. Lamone, is brought by Republican voters from Maryland’s eight congressional districts and argues that the new map violates the state constitution by intentionally diluting Republican votes. The other lawsuit, brought by Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington) and the national conservative group Judicial Watch, also argue that the new map violates Article III, Section 4 of the Maryland Constitution.

This provision, which has always been interpreted as applying to legislative districts and not to congressional districts, requires that “each legislative district be of compact form and substantially equal in population. Due consideration shall be given to natural boundaries and political subdivisions. »

Witnesses for the plaintiffs — RealClearPolitics senior election analyst Sean Trende and Thomas Brunell, a political scientist and professor at the University of Texas at Dallas — spoke at length about the new map on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. Both said they analyzed the map and found that the new congressional districts are not compact and favor Democrats over Republicans.

Trende testified Tuesday that Republican voters were removed from the 1st Congressional District with “almost surgical precision” on the new map. This district previously included heavily Republican areas in northern Maryland along with the east coast, but was redesigned to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to include parts of Anne Arundel County, making the district more competitive for Democrats .

“However you define extreme gerrymandering, it fits the bill,” Trende said Tuesday.

Arguing that the plaintiffs had not proven their case by the end of Wednesday’s testimony, Sullivan said they would have to prove that lawmakers specifically intended to deprive Republican voters of the map making. But Battaglia wondered if such a standard would be necessary.

“That may be enough here to prove a negative impact,” she said.

As for Sullivan’s accusation that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate an existing standard in Maryland law that would allow him to reject the congressional card, Battaglia called the lawsuit a “first impression case.”

Both lawsuits focus on state law rather than federal law after the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to weigh in on partisan gerrymandering at the state level in Benisek v. Lamone, a affair centered on Maryland’s 6th congressional district as it was drawn in 2011.

Plaintiffs in both lawsuits want the card blocked, and plaintiffs in the Parrott and Judicial Watch case want Battaglia to replace the one established by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, a panel convened by Governor Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. ( R). This panel included three Republicans, three Democrats and three unaffiliated voters.

Brunell, who testified on behalf of plaintiffs in the Judicial Watch lawsuit, said he used presidential, gubernatorial and senator election results dating back to 2012 to determine the partisan tilt of districts on the adopted map. He said he found that Democrats generally won a higher share of seats than their vote share on the adopted map using those prior election results.

But Brunell’s analysis also found that in the 2014 and 2018 gubernatorial elections, Hogan mapped five of eight congressional districts on the enacted map, compared to four of eight on the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission map. Brunell described these results as “outliers” and said the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission map produced results more proportional to the partisan makeup of the state.

Robert Scott, deputy general counsel for the Maryland attorney general, noted that Brunell has served as an expert defender of Republican-drawn redistricting plans in several states, including Texas and North Carolina. According to the Dallas-based Magazine D.

Brunell also found the map drawn by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission to be more compact than the enacted map, but Scott said Brunell had previously written an article in which he wrote that counties and cities don’t necessarily suffer when they are divided among multiple congressional districts and that county lines do not always reflect communities of interest.

That argument was made by House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery), a member of the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Committee, during a floor debate on new congressional districts in December.

“The county lines drawn by colonial surveyors 300 years ago are simply not an accurate reflection of how people live their lives in modern Maryland,” Luedkte said in December.

Brunell said the article represents his personal opinion, but added that he has seen local officials testify overwhelmingly that their counties and communities should be kept in one congressional district in his work on court cases in across the country. He added that the redistricting plan proposed by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission shows that a more compact map is possible despite Maryland’s unusual geography. He also added that there is a difference between a county split for a “good government” reason and a county split as part of an intentional partisan gerrymander.

The Congressional map passed by lawmakers in a December special session was crafted by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Committee, a panel convened by Senate Speaker Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County). Jones and Ferguson were both members of that panel, along with two other Democratic legislative leaders and two Republican legislative leaders. The Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission was chaired by Karl Aro, former head of the nonpartisan Legislative Services Department.

Democratic lawmakers argued in the December special session that when selecting congressional districts, compliance with federal voting rights law and population equality come before compactness. Aro said at a meeting in November that the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission aimed in its map to keep as many Marylanders as possible in their previous districts.

Former Secretary of State John T. Willis, who chaired a redistricting commission for then-Governor Parris Glendening (D) in 2001, testified Wednesday that Maryland’s new districts can be explained by changes of population and historical boundaries. Willis said that if mappers are starting from scratch and not using existing districts when creating a redistricting plan, they risk “mistrusting existing government relationships.”

As the city of Baltimore lost population, for example, Willis said the 3rd District — once entirely contained within the city — needed to expand into neighboring jurisdictions.

Willis added that a change to account for population in one district will affect other districts, since Congressional maps must be almost exactly equal in population.

“Recutting is a canvas,” Willis said. “It’s a puzzle.”

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