WASHINGTON -- Anne Arundel Democrats and Republicans asked the Supreme Court yesterday to nullify Maryland's redrawn congressional districts -- a set of political boundaries that split Anne Arundel County four ways.
In an appeal that appears unlikely to be settled until after the November elections, the county's two party central committees claimed that the Maryland General Assembly adopted the plan last year "for purely political purposes."
The new districting involves both racial and political "gerrymandering," the appeal contends. The districting was designed to guarantee that a black will win in a new district, that Democratic Rep. Steny H. Hoyer will get re-elected and thus keep his No. 4 leadership ranking in the House, and that Republican Rep. Helen D. Bentley and Democratic Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin and Thomas McMillen have a better chance of keeping their seats.
Any voters who might prefer other candidates, the appeal argues, had "their votes rendered ineffectual and wasted." Moreover, the challengers contended, residents of Anne Arundel County are scattered among four separate districts, and are widely separated from others living in those districts -- sometimes linked only by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
A special three-judge federal court in Baltimore upheld the new district lines in a December ruling, by a 2-1 vote. The majority said that, while the legislature could have drawn eight congressional districts that divided up the state's population more equally, officials had said their failure to do so was justified by the legislature's political aims.
That kind of political judgment, the majority ruled, is allowed under prior Supreme Court rulings on redistricting.
From that decision, the Anne Arundel challengers took their appeal directly to the Supreme Court.
Although the court may give some indication of its initial reaction to the appeal within coming weeks, it is too late for the justices to move the case toward a final ruling before they recess for the summer.
Thus, no decision would be likely until after the new districts had been used in this fall's elections. If the court ultimately were to strike down the plan, the General Assembly would have to draw up a new one.
It is unclear what would happen then to the members who had been elected under the challenged plan. John R. Greiber Jr., the Annapolis lawyer for the challengers, said yesterday that a decision overturning the districts might require new elections soon afterward.
If the court does not nullify the plan, the Annapolis group's appeal said, voters in the state will have to wait for a decade for relief from "unequal and ineffective representation."