Join to fight redistricting Groups file lawsuit against Md.'s plan

NAACP, GOP

May 20, 1992|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

Here's a new team -- the NAACP and the GOP.

Often at odds, the two groups became partners yesterday, when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state's legislative redistricting plan.

The NAACP filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore and then held a news conference denouncing the new district map as "the most egregious violation of minority voting rights" in the country.

It filed a motion to consolidate the case with a lawsuit filed Feb. 21 by Maryland Republicans under the name Marylanders for Fair Representation. The GOP suit argues primarily that the map is tilted toward Democrats, who dominate both houses of the General Assembly. But the Republicans also argue that it violates voting rights of minorities.

"We certainly welcome the court action by the NAACP," Kevin R. Igoe, executive director of the Maryland GOP, said when told about yesterday's filing. "From a political standpoint, it adds to what we've said for months and months, and now the major civil rights organization is on record agreeing with us."

Clifford Collins, director of the NAACP Redistricting Project, said the organization's national headquarters decided to take legal action because Gov. William Donald Schaefer refused the group's requests to change the plan to provide more majority-black legislative districts.

Mr. Collins said the NAACP had proposed 35 majority black delegate districts and 12 black Senate districts. There are 141 delegates and 47 senators in the legislature.

Under the plan drawn by Mr. Schaefer's Redistricting Advisory Committee, there are only 24 predominantly black House

districts and eight black majority Senate districts.

"We believe it represents a clear violation of provisions set forth in the Voting Rights Act of 1965," Mr. Collins said at a news conference outside the Garmatz federal courthouse.

The NAACP also has brought federal suits in South Carolina, Florida and Michigan to challenge district maps drawn in the wake of the 1990 census.

The NAACP suit charges that the map violates the 14th and 15th amendments by diluting minority votes. It says blacks and Hispanics have less opportunity than whites to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.

It argues that elections in Maryland are characterized by racially polarized voting, and that whites vote as a bloc to defeat black candidates in all districts except those with a majority black population.

It names as defendants Mr. Schaefer, Secretary of State Winfield M. Kelly Jr., Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr., House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. and the state election board.

Plaintiffs are the national and state NAACP and seven local chapters in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Prince George's, Montgomery, Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset counties.

Rudy Arrendundo, president of the Montgomery County chapter the League of United Latin American Citizens, and seven individuals also joined the complaint.

The state is required to redraw districts after every census to ensure that people are fairly represented when there are population shifts. The governor's map took effect in February and the new districts will be used in the 1994 election unless the court decides otherwise.

Frank Traynor, a spokesman for Mr. Schaefer, said he would be surprised if most black state legislators were opposed to the map. He said officials had tried to address concerns of minorities in drawing the new districts. He said it was tough "to come up with something that's perfect."

"The people who worked very hard to put this redistricting plan together were very, very careful that they took into account all the different points of view," Mr. Traynor said. "The governor thought, and Clay and Mike thought, that this was the best map that represented the state of Maryland, not only as we stand now, but as we grow in the future."

The Rev. John L. Wright, president of the NAACP's Maryland State Conference, said the number of legislators should more accurately reflect the state's racial demographics. Blacks make up nearly 25 percent of the population, he noted, but only 17 percent of the state legislature. "We believe that it is only fair and equitable that these voters be given an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice, under the principle of one person, one vote," Mr. Wright said.

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