Maryland congressional redistricting trial ends; the judge will rule next week

Lawyers for the challengers in Maryland’s new congressional districts asked a judge to declare the new map unconstitutional on the final day of a trial on Friday.

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Lawyers for the challengers in Maryland’s new congressional districts asked a judge to declare the new map unconstitutional on the final day of a trial on Friday.

The trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court included two lawsuits against the state’s redrawn congressional districts.

One such challenge, Szeliga v. Lamone, is nominated by Republican voters from Maryland’s eight congressional districts.

Strider Dickson, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the Szeliga case, pointed to expert testimony that the districts are not compact and said “traditional redistricting criteria” had been discarded in favor of partisan considerations by asking lead judge Lynne A. Battaglia to block the card.

Allan Jay Lichtman, a history professor at American University who the state called as a witness in defense of the Congressional maps, said Thursday the new districts would likely retain the same 7-1 configuration as the previous Congressional map.

But Dickson pointed to changes in the 1st Congressional District by arguing that the map illegally dilutes Republican votes. This district is represented by U.S. Representative Andrew P. Harris, the only Republican in Congress from Maryland, and saw significant changes when lawmakers redrawn it.

The 1st District was previously solidly Republican and included parts of northern Harford, Baltimore, and Carroll counties along with the eastern seaboard, but under the enacted plan crosses the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to include parts of central East County. Anne Arundel with the east coast.

Dickson noted that the new lines will mean the district is now much more competitive for Democrats and pushed back against Lichtman’s assertion that the new plan will retain a 7-1 setup.

“It’s a very safe and very competitive seven,” Dickson said, arguing that the card violates the “free and frequent” election provision of Maryland’s constitution.

Another lawsuit, filed by Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington) and the national conservative group Judicial Watch, also argue that the new congressional district map violates the state constitution because it disenfranchises Republican voters. This challenge further accuses the redistricting plan of violating the Constitution of Maryland, which states that “each legislative district shall consist of contiguous territory, be of compact form, and of substantially equal population.” Due consideration shall be given to natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions. »

Historically, this provision has been interpreted to apply to state legislative districts and not to Congress.

Battaglia noted that the court challenges represent a “first impression case,” and said the Congressional cards had not previously been challenged in state court.

Robert Popper, senior counsel at Judicial Watch, said Battaglia should prevent the plan from taking effect this election year.

State attorneys, however, argued that the plaintiffs failed to set a standard for determining how much the policy was too much.

Assistant Attorney General Andrea Trento said the framers of the state constitution entrusted the legislature with redistricting and therefore assumed some degree of politics would be involved in the process.

Solicitor General Steven Sullivan said the state constitution is silent on congressional redistricting and that any changes to the state constitution should go through the amendment process rather than court rulings.

And Robert Scott, the deputy general counsel for the Maryland attorney general, argued that the plaintiffs hadn’t done enough to prove there was “too much” politics involved in the map-drawing process.

Plaintiffs’ witnesses in both lawsuits focused on the new map’s non-compact districts and how the districts favor Democrats over Republicans in their testimony. Sean Trende, senior election analyst for RealClearPolitics and Robert Brunell, a political scientist and professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, both said they analyzed the map and found that the districts are not compact and favor Democrats over Republicans. .

Trende said Tuesday that Republicans were kicked out of the 1st District with “near surgical precision” on the new map. He said he ran simulations of thousands of potential district lines and found Maryland districts to be outliers in terms of non-compact.

Brunell analyzed how the new district lines would play out using previous statewide election results dating back to 2012. He said he found that Democrats generally won a higher share of seats than their share of vote on the new map, but also found that in the 2014 and 2018 gubernatorial elections, Hogan won five of the eight newly drawn congressional districts.

The state called two witnesses during the four-day trial arguing that the card does not illegally dilute votes: Lichtman and former Secretary of State John T. Willis. Lichtman testified that the new congressional map is more compact than the map enacted in 2011 arguing that the new district lines do not constitute a gerrymander.

In enacting the map, Democratic lawmakers argued that compactness was secondary in redistricting Congress to population equality and compliance with federal voting rights law. Willis testified that legislators must also consider historical district boundaries when adjusting for population to avoid disrupting representation.

Battaglia, a former Court of Appeals judge, asked plaintiffs’ and state’s attorneys for their views on what should happen if she were to block the card and on the authority of the County Circuit Court. ‘Anne Arundel regarding the redistricting of Congress. She noted that the question would not be relevant if she decided to maintain the new map.

All parties agreed that the General Assembly should have the ability to redraw the maps if the adopted map is blocked. Popper said the plan should be temporarily replaced with a plan developed by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, a panel convened by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), until the General Assembly enacts a new map .

Battaglia said she expects the case to go to the Court of Appeals regardless of its decision. A trial for petitions against Maryland’s new legislative map is set to begin in the Court of Appeal next Wednesday, with the special magistrate in the case expected to submit his report to the High Court in early April.

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