WASHINGTON — For four years, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has attempted to redraw Maryland’s Congressional Districts.
Ever since the state redrew the congressional districts to be friendlier to Democratic candidates in 2011, Republicans in the state have attempted to find a non-partisan fix. Now after a federal court decision ruled Maryland’s sixth congressional district unconstitutional, Hogan will finally get his shot.
On Jan. 4, Hogan’s Emergency Redistricting Commission convened for the first time, beginning the stages of a reset of the state’s congressional map after a November federal court ruling forced the state’s hand.
Friday’s redistricting commission meeting was just an introductory step to a four-month-long process. The commission, which is made up of Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters from around the state, will redraw the map and release it to the public by March 4. Then the public will have about a month to weigh in on the proposed map before the commission delivers it to the governor’s office by April 2.
“It’s not just Maryland; we want to make sure that this is a model that other states can look at and adopt,” said Alex Williams, a former federal judge and one of the co-chairs of the commission.
The commission is following a recommendation from a panel of federal judges, who ruled that the state’s newly redrawn sixth district was designed specifically to diminish the power of Republican voters. In 2011, after the census of the prior year, Maryland, along with most states, redrew its congressional boundaries. The sixth district was redrawn to include more Democratic voters from Montgomery County, including parts of Gaithersburg and Potomac, into the traditional Republican district, which covers the western panhandle of the state.
While, after the 2020 census, Maryland will have to redistrict anyway, November’s federal ruling and the new districts drawn by the commission mean Maryland could have new districts by the 2020 election, not after it.
On Jan. 4, during its first meeting, the commission spent its time laying the early groundwork for its mission — designing fairer congressional districts in Maryland.
“It’s past time for Marylanders to choose their representatives instead of politicians choosing their constituents, and today’s ruling is a major step in that direction,” Hogan said in a statement.
In its first meeting, the commission did not make any decision other than setting a date for a Jan. 14 public hearing in Frederick, where voters can voice their concerns to the commission.
For 20 years, the sixth district was a reliable Republican seat, with Rep. Roscoe Bartlett representing the western part of the state until his district boundaries were redrawn to include more Democratic voters. In 2012, after the districts were redrawn, Democrat John Delaney easily defeated Bartlett to swing the district blue.
Republicans in Maryland claimed that Democratic state officials gerrymandered, or purposely redrew, the district lines in a way to increase the chances of election or reelection of Democratic members of Congress.
Martin O’Malley, the Democratic governor of Maryland when the state redrew it congressional districts, admitted that the districts were redrawn purposely to give Democrats an edge.
“To provide some check, some balance against what was happening in 30 states that were now Republican- controlled,” O’Malley wrote in a March op-ed in “USA Today.” “Within legal and constitutional limits, we drew a map that elected an additional Democratic House member to our delegation.”
However, Attorney General Brian Frosh has appealed the federal ruling, and now the U.S. Supreme Court decided it will take up the case and hear the appeal on Maryland’s Congressional map.
Legislators in Maryland have argued that the gerrymandered districts are necessary to counterbalance partisan gerrymandering by Republicans in other states, explaining that Maryland is prone to the same pitfalls unless the practice is ended nationwide.
Democratic Congressman David Trone, who just began his first term representing the sixth district last week, called Hogan’s commission “theatre,” saying there needs to be a bill that Congress votes on that ends gerrymandering in every state.
“What really matters is what the Supreme Court does,” Trone said. “It’s at the Supreme Court; what’s happening in Annapolis is just theatre, and we should be focused on what the U.S. Supreme Court does. What we need is a national fix.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8), who approved Maryland’s congressional map when he was a member of the State Senate in 2011, said he now supports a non-partisan approach to redistricting.
“And I think that we got to draw up fairer districts, and that means districts that are more reflective of the political will of the people as well as that make more sense in terms of compactness and continuity,” Raskin said.