WASHINGTON -- Acting swiftly and with only one dissent, the Supreme Court yesterday upheld the new districts for Maryland's eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The court issued a final ruling without holding a hearing, and without explaining the decision in a case it had studied for only a little over a week.
Anne Arundel County Republican and Democratic organizations had brought the suit, complaining that the plan split the county into four districts.
In a one-line order, the court said it agreed with a ruling issued last December by a special three-judge U.S. District Court in Baltimore in favor of the new districting plan drawn up last fall by the Maryland General Assembly. One justice, John Paul Stevens, dissented, arguing that the court should have held a hearing before reaching a decision.
Kevin Igoe, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said the court's decision was not unexpected. He said the court had ruled on the issue of numerical differences in the population of each district and not on the political questions.
Laura G. Treffer, chair of the Anne Arundel Republican Party, said she was "disappointed" but resigned to the court's decision. "We're just going to have to live with it -- for 10 years," she said. The high court's decision to rule without a full-blown review of the political facts tended to provide more protection for incumbent office holders who tend to exercise considerable control over the line-drawing process, she said.
The redistricting of the state's House delegation was required after the 1990 census. The first representatives from the new districts will be chosen in this year's election on Nov. 3. Among the changes made by the General Assembly was the creation of a new district in the Washington suburbs with a majority of black voters. One of Maryland's eight representatives, Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, is black. A second black representative would bring the makeup of the delegation into line with the proportion of blacks in Maryland's population as a whole.
In creating the new district, the General Assembly put parts of Anne Arundel County into four congressional districts. The federal court in Baltimore commented that that gesture was "perhaps enough to raise eyebrows," but not enough to make the new plan unconstitutional.
The plan also drew new boundary lines to help insure the re-election of Democratic Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, who holds a key leadership post in the House.
The map will also aid the re-election of incumbents Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, and Helen D. Bentley, R-2nd. And it gives Tom McMillen, D-4th, enough Democrats from his old Anne Arundel-based district to give him a shot at winning in the new, Eastern Shore-dominated 1st District.
The plan was challenged in federal court by the Republican and Democratic central committees in Anne Arundel County, joined by five individual voters there.
The federal panel that upheld the plan said the General Assembly could have drawn up new districts that came closer to achieving equality of population. But it said the state had succeeded in defending the plan's deviations from strict equality.
The plan wound up as it did, the federal court concluded, because the legislature wanted to keep intact the three major regions of Maryland around the center -- the Eastern Shore, Southern Maryland and Western Maryland -- to help incumbents keep their seats, and to create a district dominated by black voters.
Those are "legitimate state goals," the federal court concluded.
The challengers, argued that the legislature had no power to create a black-majority district when there was no proof of prior racial discrimination in voting, lacked power to create "safe" seats for incumbents and had no authority to try to control elections by the placing voters in specific districts according to the way they had voted in the past.
The Supreme Court did not react to any one of those challenges, confining itself to a simple ruling upholding the districting plan.