A Maryland judge on Friday deferred a decision about the state’s newly redrawn congressional map, noting at a hearing that her ruling striking down the previous map is being appealed by the attorney general's office to the state's highest court.
Judge Lynn Battaglia also pointed out that the new map, which the General Assembly approved Wednesday, has not yet been enacted. The measure with the newly drawn political boundaries for the state’s eight U.S. House seats has not been signed or vetoed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan yet.
The map ruled unconstitutional last week was the first map drawn by Democrats to be struck down by a court this redistricting cycle. On Thursday, a judge declared New York’s new Democrat-drawn congressional and legislative district maps unconstitutional. Courts have previously intervened to block maps they found to be GOP gerrymanders in North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Battaglia gave an update on the Maryland case at a court hearing she scheduled after she ruled that the congressional map approved in December is a “product of extreme partisan gerrymandering.” The judge had ordered the legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, to produce a new map this week, and she scheduled Friday's hearing to review it.
Battaglia, who once served on the state's highest court, said if she issued a ruling now, it would only be an advisory one, and she noted that from her experience advisory opinions “are not well regarded” by the Maryland Court of Appeals.
“We will issue supplemental findings of fact for you all to take up to the Court of Appeals," Battaglia said.
The judge said she planned to issue an amended court order denying approval of the map, but she emphasized such an order would not be a ruling on the merits.
Last week, Battaglia issued a 94-page ruling that concluded the previous 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.
In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1, Democrats hold a 7-1 advantage over the GOP in the state's eight U.S. House seats. One change in the first map drew attention by stretching the district of the GOP's lone Maryland Republican congressman, Rep. Andy Harris, from the Eastern Shore across the Chesapeake Bay into an area with more Democrats to make the district more competitive for a Democrat.
Assistant Attorney General Andrea Trento argued that the new map approved on Wednesday includes significant changes and improvements to make the districts more compact. He also noted that the new map does not include the previous change to Harris' district that crossed the bay.
Strider Dickson, an attorney representing Republican plaintiffs, criticized the new map for bringing a portion of the newly drawn 2nd Congressional District in mostly Baltimore and Carroll Counties down into the 7th Congressional District in the city of Baltimore into an area with many voters who are Democrats.
Trento said the area Dickson referred to was drawn for Voting Rights Act reasons.
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