Anne Arundel County may legally be carved up between four different congressional districts, even if it was done for political purposes, a divided federal court has ruled.
The ruling handed down yesterday by a three-judge U.S. District Court panel upholds the constitutionality of the state's new congressional districts and clears the way for the March 3 primary.
In a 2-1 decision, the panel rejected a claim filed jointly by Republican and Democratic officials in Anne Arundel County, as well as a group of county residents.
"The point is that carving Anne Arundel County into four pieces -- while perhaps enough to raise eyebrows -- does not violate any federal constitutional provision," U.S. District Court Judges Frederick N. Smalkin and Frank A. Kaufman wrote in their opinion.
"We're pretty happy with it," said Assistant Attorney General Kathryn M. Rowe, who helped defend the redistricting plan. "We pretty much expected to win it going in."
John R. Greiber Jr., the attorney challenging the map, said he would file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Basically, you have legislators determining who our congresspersons are going to be, and not the people," Greiber said. "They've insulated themselves from us, and the Constitution doesn't permit that."
The decision came only hours before the 9 p.m. filing deadline for congressional races.
In his dissent, Judge Paul V. Niemeyer of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said the General Assembly drew its map primarily using political considerations and not "neutral" considerations such as county boundaries or geographic features.
"The driving force behind the placement of the new district boundaries was a desire to promote the election bids of certain incumbent representatives at the expense of other, less senior incumbents," Niemeyer wrote in his dissent. He added that "Manipulating district lines, either by unnecessarily pitting incumbents against one another or by enhancing the prospects of one candidate over another, cannot be reconciled with" the U.S. Constitution.
Niemeyer wrote in his dissent that he would not allow the election to proceed with the current map.
The General Assembly approved the redistricting plan in October after a drawn-out political fight, centering on a clash between the speaker of the House of Delegates, R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., and the president of the Senate, Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.
Legislative leaders have acknowledged that the boundary lines were drawn in many cases to protect incumbents.
The court's majority opinion noted that the Constitution allows for political considerations in redistricting, as long as the final map is not discriminatory.
The plan divided Anne Arundel County among four of the state's eight congressional districts, the only county split so many ways. Anne Arundel officials argued that the county -- the state's fourth most populous -- saw its voting strength unfairly diluted. County voters, they argued, would not be able to elect a county resident to Congress.
A large portion of the county was placed in the 1st District, which is dominated by the Eastern Shore, eliminating the Arundel-based district now held by Democratic Rep. Tom McMillen.