Facing a looming court-imposed deadline to redraw Maryland’s proposed congressional districts, Democrats in Maryland’s Senate on Tuesday quickly approved a hastily redrawn congressional map on a party vote.
Final votes in the General Assembly to approve the map are expected before Wednesday’s deadline set by Justice Lynne A. Battaglia, who dismissed the legislature’s earlier Congressional map as the “product of extreme partisan gerrymandering.” which violates several clauses of the state constitution.
The map Battaglia rejected would have solidified Democratic control of seven of Maryland’s eight congressional districts and would also have made the state’s only Republican congressman, U.S. Representative Andy Harris, more vulnerable to a challenger.
The new map, drawn over the weekend and first released publicly on Monday night, appears to significantly dilute the Democrat’s formidable partisan advantages. The card would take effect if Battaglia approved it.
It was unclear on Tuesday whether Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, plans to appeal Battaglia’s initial ruling. Democratic legislative leaders on Monday appeared to signal that intention as likely on a parallel track to the legislative approval process.
Senators approved the map on Tuesday after partisan debate, with Republicans opposing it but Democrats passing the map in a final 30-13 vote. The House of Delegates is expected to quickly follow through and approve the map and the send to Governor Larry Hogan. Democrats control both houses with non-veto majorities.
Legislative and judicial approval of the map would provide clarity to 2022 Maryland congressional candidates about which districts they seek to represent and to state voters about which districts they may be voting in for the first time.
Hogan, a Republican, vetoed the congressional map passed in December, but was quickly overruled by Democratic lawmakers. Hogan has repeatedly urged lawmakers to pass another set of maps drawn by a bipartisan commission appointed by the governor, though Democratic leaders in the General Assembly have shown little interest in considering that map.
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Democratic senators argued that the new map complied with Battaglia’s order and credited nonpartisan Legislative Services Department staff with working all weekend to draft it. Republicans, however, strongly objected that the map remained heavily biased in favor of Democrats and complained that Republicans were not included in the frantic drafting process.
“This card, although prettier [than the map rejected by the court]is nothing more than lipstick on a pig,” Sen. Michael Hough, a Republican from Frederick County, who compared it to current gerrymandered Congressional maps passed in 2010.
Republican Baltimore County Sen. Chris West called it “far superior” to the map passed in December, but said he thought the “excessive number” of county crossings – especially in the City and County of Baltimore – also rendered it unconstitutional.
Senate Speaker Bill Ferguson said he was “disappointed” Republicans still voted against the latest map because he said it addressed many Republican objections raised in December.
By rejecting the original map, Battaglia said it violated the state’s constitutional requirement that legislative districts consist of contiguous territory and have a compact form, with due regard for natural boundaries and political subdivisions. . It also violated free elections, freedom of speech and equal protection clauses in the state constitution, she said.
Other courts have overturned cards deemed to be GOP gerrymanders in North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, infuriating Republicans and leading conservatives to push for the U.S. Supreme Court to limit the power of state courts to intervene against maps drawn by state legislatures.
This article will be updated