Top court explains ruling on state redistricting plan
By Steve Lash, in the Daily Record Dec 11, 2013
A legislative district that straddled political boundaries was “constitutionally required” to ensure that some 30,000 residents were not left unrepresented in the General Assembly, Maryland’s top court said Tuesday in explaining why it approved Gov. Martin O’Malley’s state redistricting plan last year.
The unanimous Maryland Court of Appeals rejected the argument of two Baltimore County state senators who had challenged the new district’s stretch into Baltimore city as violating Article III, Section 4 of the Maryland Constitution, which requires the state’s 47 legislative districts be drawn with “due regard” for political boundaries, such as city and county lines.
Sens. James Brochin and Delores G. Kelley — both Democrats like O’Malley — noted that the high court in 2002 had rejected as unconstitutional a similar district that would have included both the county and the city.
But on Tuesday, the Court of Appeals said population figures for Maryland and Baltimore County made confining legislative districts to the county impossible.
According to the 2010 census, Maryland has a population of 5,772,231, or 122,813 residents per district, the high court said. Baltimore County’s population of 807,053 would thus comprise about 6.5 legislative districts, and Baltimore’s population of 624,054 would comprise 5.1 districts, the court added.
“Accordingly, if Baltimore County were divided into six legislative districts of the largest possible variation, more than 30,000 people would be left without a district,” Retired Chief Judge Robert M. Bell wrote for the high court.
“Consequently to satisfy equal-protection principles and provide complete political representation to the citizens of Baltimore County, an additional legislative district was needed,” Bell added. “That could only be accomplished by establishing a multi-county district. We conclude that, because a crossing into Baltimore County from another political subdivision was constitutionally required to provide representation to all of Baltimore County’s citizens, the [redistricting] plan did not violate the due regard requirement.”
Jonathan S. Shurberg, Brochin and Kelley’s attorney, said he finds solace in that the Maryland Court of Appeals will continue to review cross-boundary districts to ensure they are required to preserve representation and not simply approve what the governor wants.
“The right to judicial review is still a very broad one,” said Shurberg, a Silver Spring solo practitioner. The Court of Appeals will conduct “a very careful, considered analysis of each border crossing that the state might adopt going forward,” he added.
O’Malley’s office did not respond to a request for comment late Wednesday afternoon.
The court issued the opinion to explain its Nov. 9, 2012 order rejecting legal challenges to O’Malley’s legislative redistricting map following the 2010 Census. The General Assembly had approved the map during its 2012 session.
The high court’s order came two days after the judges heard arguments and three days after Maryland voters approved the map in an Election Day referendum.
Brochin and Kelley, concerned their newly redrawn districts would make it more difficult to win re-election in 2014, had argued that O’Malley’s map was drawn with a nefarious intent to give Baltimore city a sixth district, and thus a sixth senator.
The governor, through the attorney general’s office, had countered his goal was to ensure a majority black district on the Baltimore city/Baltimore County border.
But the high court, in its decision, said it was not concerned with the political arguments — only with whether the state had met the constitutional mandates of due regard and equal protection.
“Irrespective of the argument that it may have been ‘better’ for the plan’s drafters to have made another political subdivision the subject of the border crossing, or that the plan’s drafters could, and should, have avoided under-populating districts in the city and over-populating districts in the county in favor of more compact districts in Baltimore County and another county, a subdivision crossing was clearly necessary to achieve substantial population equality” under the federal Constitution, Bell wrote.
“Where that crossing should have been placed is not for the court to determine,” he added. “The decision as to how the districts are drawn is quintessentially a political one, which requires judicial deference to be given to the political branches.”
Brochin said Wednesday that he has “got to live with” the court’s opinion and the redrawn district as he seeks re-election next year.
“You can cry about it or do something about it,” Brochin said, adding he has been knocking on doors and “meeting my new constituents.”
Kelley did not return a telephone message seeking comment on the decision.
The high court, in upholding the legislative redistricting, also rejected an argument from Maryland resident Christopher Bouchat that a republican form of government requires two senators from each legislative district rather than one. The court said Bouchat had not presented “compelling evidence” in support of his challenge.
The court also rejected claims from more than 20 other Maryland residents that the redrawn map will dilute the black vote by creating multi-delegate districts where blacks are in the majority. The high court said the residents had not proven their claim of dilution in violation of Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act.
WHAT THE COURT HELD
In the Matter of 2012 Legislative Redistricting of the State, Misc. Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 5, Sept. Term 2011. Reported. Opinion by Bell, C.J. (Retired). Argued Nov. 7, 2012. Filed Dec. 10, 2013.
Does a redrawn legislative district that encompasses Baltimore city and Baltimore County violate the state constitution’s mandate that districts be drawn with “due regard” for boundaries?
No; a cross-border district is needed to ensure more than 30,000 county residents have representation.
Jonathan Shurberg, Christopher Bouchat, Timothy C. Burke and Jason Torchinsky for petitioners; Daniel A. Friedman for respondent.
RecordFax # 13-1210-20 (86 pages).