Md. lawsuit creates chance for redistricting reform in the state

By Emma Reilly
Opinion Editor

Maryland’s newly redrawn congressional districts are facing legal contestation from Republican lawmakers and the anti-gerrymandering group Fair Maps Maryland.

The map dictating the new boundaries of the state’s congressional districts was approved in December 2021 by the Maryland General Assembly over Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto. According to The Baltimore Sun, the overrule of the veto was passed by unanimously Democratic votes.

State Del. Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore and Harford counties) and Del. Christopher T. Adams (R-Lower Shore) believe that the new map gerrymanders Maryland districts in order to intentionally decrease the influence of Republican voters in elections.

According to The Baltimore Sun, this is the first time that claims against redistricting along partisan lines on the grounds of a state constitutional violation will be considered in Maryland court.

On top of the fact that this lawsuit is unprecedented, it is extremely urgent. Republican delegates’ opposition to the redistricting done in December comes mere months ahead of the upcoming June 28 gubernatorial primary elections.

According to Article I, Section 7 of the Maryland Constitution, The General Assembly must “pass laws necessary for the preservation of the purity of elections.”

Szeliga and Adams believe that the creation and approval of new district lines did not adhere to this decree.

The plaintiff’s development of a state-level legal argument against gerrymandering is key to securing a trial because of the precedent set by Benisek v. Lamone, a U.S. Supreme Court case that involved Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District.

In Benisek v. Lamone, “the U.S. Supreme Court declined to weigh in on state-level partisan gerrymandering disputes,” Maryland Matters’ Bennett Leckrone said.

By avoiding an argument related to the U.S. Constitution, Maryland’s Republican lawmakers are more likely to convince the court to make an explicit decision regarding gerrymandering.

Although gerrymandering is a persistent issue nationwide, it is particularly relevant in Maryland.

“Maryland’s congressional districts have been criticized widely as among the most heavily gerrymandered in the nation,” The Baltimore Sun said. “Democrats currently hold seven of the state’s eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives even though Republican voters usually make up at least a third of the state’s electorate.”

The state does have a body in place to combat gerrymandering.

According to Maryland.gov, the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission is a coalition of nine people “selected to be independent from legislative influence…and representative of the state’s diversity and geographical, racial, and gender makeup.”

The commission’s nonpartisan legislative maps were submitted to the Maryland General Assembly in January 2021 following Gov. Hogan’s veto, but the original maps were approved nevertheless. This goes to show that gerrymandering is a deeply institutionalized practice which, without legal ramifications for its perpetuation, will continue to occur.

According to Time, “If you are like roughly 90 percent of Americans, the congressional district where you live is already in the bag, safely tied up for the Ds or the Rs.”

It seems that without a judicial precedent declaring the unconstitutionality of gerrymandering, political parties in power will continue to gerrymander districts to their favor. Districts will continue to shift and citizens will continue to feel as if their votes are being devalued unless something changes. 

“Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of perpetuating [gerrymandering] and have been for decades. The consequences have been devastating,” the Fair Maps Maryland website says. “Electoral districts are now more partisan, less competitive, and less diverse than ever and the political outcomes follow the exact same pattern.”

Maryland and United States legislators need to break away from the cycle of gerrymandering. The government must embrace the importance of preserving representative and influential voter pools. The only way for this to be achieved is for this lawsuit to be considered and for an explicit legal precedent about gerrymandering to be set.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Featured Photo Caption: Gov. Hogan challenged Maryland’s 2022 congressional maps.

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