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Maryland lawmakers scramble to produce new congressional map

March 29, 2022 GMT

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland lawmakers scrambled to approve a new congressional map Tuesday to comply with a court order, after a judge struck down the first map drawn by Democrats this redistricting cycle late last week.

The Maryland Senate moved quickly to advance a new plan with more compactly drawn districts for the state’s eight U.S. House seats. The Senate voted 30-13 for the map, which was introduced Monday night. That sends the measure to the House, which is expected to pass the bill quickly to comply with a Wednesday deadline set by a judge for a new plan.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Lynne Battaglia struck down the map Friday, calling it “a product of extreme partisan gerrymandering.”

In her order, Battaglia said the map violated the state constitutional requirement that legislative districts consist of adjoining territory and be compact in form, with due regard for natural boundaries and political subdivisions. It also violated the state constitution’s free elections, free speech and equal protection clauses, she said.

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Legislative leaders said the ruling amounted to a new standard for the state’s congressional maps. While those standards have applied to the boundaries of the state legislative districts for the 188 seats in the General Assembly in the past, they had not been applied before to the congressional map, they said.

Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones said in a statement Monday that the new map is contingent on the loss of an appeal of the judge’s ruling.

The new map was drawn by staff at the Maryland Department of Legislative Services over the weekend to comply with the judge’s order.

Sen. Melony Griffith, a Prince George’s County Democrat, said the presiding officers requested the new map in legislation based on the court ruling and after consultation with the attorney general.

“The drafting was based on the guidance given from the court, a desire to keep people, as many as possible, with their current districts or representation, mindful of our desire and requirement to comply with the Voting Rights Act, to maintain compactness, avoid packing and take into consideration Maryland’s unique geography,” Griffith said.

In a map long criticized for sprawling districts drawn to benefit Democrats, Democrats now hold a 7-1 advantage in the state’s U.S. House seats over the GOP. That’s in a state where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 2-1.

Liliana Norkaitis, a high school student in Harford County, was one of three people who testified against the new map at a Tuesday morning bill hearing, after a signup period to testify was less than 12 hours, from 8:30 p.m. Monday to 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.

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“Although I have not yet completed AP statistics this year, I don’t need to be a certified statistician to know that the federal representation is heavily inflated to be a Democratic majority,” Norkaitis said. “I’m asking for the map to reflect that of our state demographics.”

Critics said the plan approved in a December special session would potentially enable Democrats to go 8-0 by endangering the state’s only Republican congressman, Rep. Andy Harris.

The initial map added Democrats to Harris’ district by extending the boundaries that include the Eastern Shore to the west across the Chesapeake Bay and into a pocket with more Democratic voters in Anne Arundel County. The revised map approved Tuesday removes that change, restoring GOP strength there.

Overall, the new map makes the districts more compact. The 6th Congressional District in western Maryland, which had been held by a Republican before it was redrawn about a decade ago, would have all of Frederick County in the district.

Still, Republican lawmakers say the map basically preserves the unfairness of the boundaries that have been in effect for the last decade.

Sen. Michael Hough, a Frederick County Republican, said the map is “almost identical to the map I voted against 10 years ago, which was a 7-1 gerrymander.”

“This map, while prettier, is nothing more than lipstick on a pig,” Hough said.