A divided panel of federal judges upheld yesterday Maryland's congressional redistricting plan, which splits Anne Arundel County among four districts.
The 2-1 ruling allows the state's March 3 primary to go ahead as scheduled and provides some relief for State Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore, chairman of the Senate's redistricting committee.
"I'm just glad the whole mess is over," he said. "It was the worst political process I've ever been involved in."
But the ruling, in a suit filed by Anne Arundel political leaders, also provides encouragement for Annapolis lawyer John R. Greiber, who had argued that the plan blatantly violated federal rules against gerrymandering.
Paul V. Neimeyer, the dissenting judge, agreed with him.
"I take a lot of solace in the fact that Judge Neimeyer came down on our side," said Mr. Greiber, who represented the county's Democratic and Republican central committees and five residents.
"My clients are ready to go to the Supreme Court, and I think the tide will turn in our favor there."
The General Assembly's redistricting plan "depicts a classic gerrymander in an attempt to control the outcome of future congressional elections," Judge Neimeyer wrote.
The suit, filed last month, asked the court to declare the redistricting plan unconstitutional and to bar state election officials from registering candidates for the primary until the district lines are resolved.
In a hearing two weeks ago, Mr. Greiber argued that the map drafted by the General Assembly in October violated one-person, one-vote requirements because of variations in population within the districts.
Another plan that left Anne Arundel county relatively intact had a smaller variation, he said.
Judges Frederick N. Smalkin and Frank A. Kaufman agreed that the existence of such a plan raised questions about the redistricting, but decided that state officials had "set forth several convincing, consistent and legitimate justifications for numerical deviations."
One of those reasons -- creating a "safe seat" for Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md-5th -- led to the charges of gerrymandering.
The legislature 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, he said.
"All they were doing was protecting incumbents," Mr. Greiber charged.
The majority disagreed, however. Gerrymandering involves partisan bias, they concluded.
And the Anne Arundel suit was filed by a bipartisan committee angry over the way the county had been split.
"Partisan discrimination . . . apparently has not occurred here," they said.
And "carving Anne Arundel County into four pieces -- while perhaps enough to raise eyebrows -- does not violate any federal constitutional provisions," they ruled.