5 city-county Senate seats OK'd by court Schaefer's redistricting plan upheld

August 25, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

The Maryland Court of Appeals yesterday approved Gov. William Donald Schaefer's 1990 redistricting legislation, which created five senatorial districts that Baltimore County must share with Baltimore.

The state's highest court voted 5-2 to uphold a Feb. 4 decision by a special court master declaring the law valid.

Another review of the legislation is pending in federal court.

While a spokeswoman for the governor praised the court's approval of the city-county districts, a legislator who challenged the plan said that the law gives the city too much political power while diluting Baltimore County's strength in the General Assembly.

"The court truly had to go out of its way to say this was constitutional," said Del. Richard Rynd, a Baltimore County Democrat. "There was absolutely no regard for jurisdictional lines. As Baltimore City continues to lose population, they're going to come farther into Baltimore County to save the seat of another senator."

Mr. Rynd said that he will decide whether to seek a federal court review of the Court of Appeals' ruling. Under the redistricting law, he would be forced to compete with Del. Theodore Levin for the same legislative seat.

Page Boinest, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the court's approval of the city-county districts was a key victory for communities that share common interests. She said the court's decision vindicated the governor's redistricting plan.

"The governor felt like he had proposed a balanced plan for legislative redistricting, taking into account shifts in population and coming up with as fair a plan as possible," Ms. Boinest said.

The measure was drafted by the governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee and went into effect on Feb. 21, 1992, after the General Assembly failed to amend the governor's plan or pass an alternative law of its own.

The opinion, written by Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy, expressed reluctance to approve the shared districts.

It warned that the shared districts come "perilously close to running afoul" of the Maryland Constitution but may have been necessary to create a new minority district.

Judge Murphy said that representatives from the city-county districts may face conflicts when dealing with matters that benefit one jurisdiction at the expense of the other and he expressed regret that one district splits a tight-knit Jewish community. But he said that the breaches do not "manifestly" harm the county.

"Of the five districts which cross the border, two favor the city, two favor the county, and the fifth, though it may favor the city, is subdistricted to assure that the county controls at least one delegate," the opinion said.

A dissenting opinion filed by Judge John C. Eldridge and joined by Judge Robert M. Bell stressed the historical importance of jurisdictional boundaries in shaping local laws. The dissent objected strenuously to the breached lines.

"This court should not hold valid a plan which unabashedly flouts the Maryland Constitution by failing to give the high regard to the boundaries of political subdivisions which is due," Judge Eldridge said in dissent, which said the law violated the U.S. Constitution and Maryland Constitution.

The court's majority brushed aside seven other arguments against the districts.

Opponents claimed that the governor's advisory committee did not give state residents enough notice of public hearings to enable them to participate in discussions and did not adequately describe what the new districts would look like.

The legislation, they said, created districts that were not geographically compact, violated the First Amendment and the Voting Rights Act, disregarded jurisdictional boundaries, created districts with wide disparities in population and gerrymandered areas in favor of incumbents.

Del. Dana Lee Dembrow, D-Montgomery, one of those challenging the legislation, said he wasn't surprised by the court's decision and that he will have to "just live with" a scheme that he believes is unfair to his county.

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