Legislative redistricting is upheld Master's opinion is not final word

February 04, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Maryland's legislative redistricting plan is legal and should be allowed to stand, a special master appointed by the Court of Appeals said in his opinion released yesterday.

The 34-page opinion, which rejects 10 objections to the plan, is not the final word. However, it does indicate how the Court of Appeals will handle the issue.

Last year, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the General Assembly adopted the plan over the protests of Baltimore and Montgomery County legislators, state Republicans and the NAACP. Yesterday, Governor Schaefer said that he was "very pleased" to hear of Judge Marvin H. Smith's opinion.

"We worked very hard on that plan," he said.

Several Baltimore area legislators were unhappy with the opinion, however, and vowed to file written exceptions. Del. Richard Rynd, a Baltimore County Democrat, said, "I really believe we're going to prevail in the Court of Appeals."

House Minority Leader Ellen R. Sauerbrey of Baltimore County said that the Republicans "chose not to go into state court," because they expected yesterday's outcome.

The GOP has filed suit in federal court, as did the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Those suits are still pending.

If the state and federal courts disagree about the plan's constitutionality, the issue could wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In his opinion, Judge Smith, who is retired from the Caroline County Circuit Court, wrote that the objections Baltimore County legislators raised about city legislative districts encroaching on their political territory was "by far the thorniest issue before the court."

Under the plan, four city districts breach the city-county boundary, pushing several Baltimore County districts into Harford and Howard counties.

In addition, the plan created a new, majority-black legislative district straddling the city-county line along the Liberty Road corridor and took prime voting areas from several Republican-dominated districts, substituting heavily Democratic ones instead.

Judge Smith rejected the arguments Mr. Rynd and Del. Theodore Levin, another Baltimore County Democrat, offered against mixing city and county neighborhoods. He also wrote that though it "may be distressing" to some that the plan unites economically dissimilar communities in Northwest Baltimore and Baltimore County and splits the Pikesville Jewish community, these actions "do not add up to a constitutional violation."

Judge Smith also rejected Baltimore County Democratic Sen. Paula C. Hollinger's argument that putting her in the same district with the county's only other female state senator was an act of gender discrimination. Sen. Janice Piccinini, also a Democrat, said yesterday that she was "thrilled" with the changes to her district.

Judge Smith also rejected complaints that the new districts deviate too widely from the equal population average of 101,733 per senatorial district, that the process of drawing Maryland's new political map was not given proper public hearings, and that the plan discriminates against blacks in the Maryland suburbs of Washington and of the Baltimore area.

Judge Smith concluded that because all the complainants are white, they have no legal standing on the issue of discrimination against blacks. Beyond that, he said, the governor's plan "bears a presumption of validity," and none of the objections showed the plan violated the federal Voting Rights Act.

On Tuesday, Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy said that both sides can write replies to the opinion. The Court of Appeals will hold a hearing before issuing a final decision.

Redrawing Maryland's legislative, congressional and local councilmanic district lines is required by law after each federal census to account for shifts in population. If the plan is upheld, the new districts will be used in the 1994 elections.

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