Lawyers for Republicans urge judge to remove ‘unconstitutional’ map of Maryland’s legislative districts – Baltimore Sun


Lawyers for a group of Republican delegates pressed a judge on Wednesday to reject a Maryland General Assembly-approved map of state legislative districts they say would illegally favor Democrats in the election.

The plaintiffs, including Republican voters and two groups of GOP delegates, told Alan M. Wilner, a retired judge appointed to the case, at a Maryland Court of Appeals hearing that the map is loaded with irregularly shaped districts that violate a section of the state constitution calling for districts to be compact and respect natural geographic boundaries.

“At the end of the case, we will ask the court to declare the districts we challenged unconstitutional,” said Republican Dels state attorney Strider Dickson. Mark Fisher of Calvert County, Nic Kipke of Anne Arundel County and Kathy Szeliga, who represents parts of Harford and Baltimore counties. Other challenges, including another from state lawmakers, are being heard simultaneously.

The hearing could last until the end of the week. Wilner said he would then assess all the evidence before filing a report on the case with the appeals court, which will then rule.

If the card for the 141 state delegates and 47 senators is removed, the court could order the General Assembly to create a new one. Some plaintiffs have suggested the court’s surrogate in a map proposed by a commission created by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and made up of Republican, Democrat and independent voters.

Democrats rejected this Hogan-backed map, and on January 27 the General Assembly passed its own map.

Prompt resolution is essential because the State Board of Elections needs final district boundaries to prepare ballots and secure polling places. On March 15, the Court of Appeal pushed back the date of the primary election from June 28 to July 19 because the redistricting challenge was still unresolved.

A similar challenge by Republicans against the General Assembly’s map of Maryland’s eight congressional districts is also pending. This case is in its final stages in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, but it is unclear when a decision will be rendered.

Both cases included expert testimony from both sides testifying on technical issues such as methods of assessing the shape of a neighborhood.

Dickson, the attorney, wrote in a recent court filing that one legislative district – in the College Park area – “is shaped like a boomerang”, while another – stretching from south-central Howard County to Anne Arundel County – has a shape that “defies description.”

Democratic leaders argued during the General Assembly debate that the new map is fair and meets the requirements of the state constitution.

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During Wednesday’s hearing, Dickson said the plaintiffs were denied evidence by the state that could have helped the Republicans’ case.

“We didn’t have access to why the districts were drawn the way they were drawn,” the attorney told the judge. “The fact that we don’t have access to some of the information about why the districts were drawn very seriously undermines a number of our claims.”

Dickson was referring to recent demands to require evidence from the state about who was responsible “for designing or constructing” legislative districts, and what criteria were used.

The state attorney general’s office, which defends the map, asserted legislative privilege, which protects certain information about legislative acts from use in court.

Legislative privilege “is dictated by the separation of powers in the constitution,” Assistant Attorney General Andrea Trento said during the hearing.

On February 10, Wilner denied the plaintiffs’ request for information, saying that legislators and their staff “cannot be compelled to explain their legislative conduct or the events of a legislative session, other than before the legislature. “.

Nonetheless, Dickson argued at the hearing that “although we don’t have that evidence, we still have clear evidence [state constitutional] fines. »

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