A three-judge federal panel will decide by Friday whether Maryland's March 3 primary can go ahead as scheduled when it rules on Anne Arundel County's challenge to congressional districts adopted this fall.
Anne Arundel County political leaders have asked the U.S. District Court in Baltimore to throw out the district map, which divides the county among four districts. They also asked for an injunction to halt the primary until a new map can be drawn.
Yesterday, John R. Greiber, an Annapolis lawyer who represents Anne Arundel's Democratic and Republican central committees and five residents, argued that leaders of the General Assembly, who drafted the map, manipulated district boundaries to protect incumbent Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th.
Mr. Greiber said they could not justify slicing Anne Arundel so that Brooklyn Park in the north is in the same district with the Eastern Shore, exclusive Gibson Island joins Dundalk in another district, the Fort Meade area is lumped in with Pikesville, and southern Anne Arundel is tied with Southern Maryland.
"What they've done is hold a hypothetical election with everyone there except the voters," he groused. "All they were doing was protecting incumbents."
But Evelyn O. Cannon, an assistant attorney general, countered that the plan keeps the major regions of the state -- Western Maryland, the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland -- intact and provides a minority-dominated district in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
Moreover, she said, the plan had broad support in the legislature and split fewer counties than an alternate plan Mr. Greiber preferred.
"We agree the decisions were, in fact, political decisions, but there was nothing sinister in them," she said.
Both lawyers faced a withering battery of questions from the judges, who pressed for specific legal precedents to guide them.
"Where is that?" Judge Frank A. Kauffman challenged repeatedly. "What case? Cite the language."
Judge Frederick N. Smalkin played devil's advocate.
"All legislation is last minute," he shot back when Mr. Greiber complained that legislative leaders railroaded the map through at the last minute.