Victory for Regionalism

August 30, 1993

The Maryland Court of Appeals has struck a blow for metropolitan regionalism that will leave its mark on the political // map for decades. In upholding Gov. William Donald Schaefer's redistricting plan for the legislature, it has undermined the narrow parochialism that pits Baltimore City and Baltimore County against each other.

Though there were a number of legal challenges to the reshuffling of legislative seats following the 1990 census, the most important and difficult issue dealt with the constitutional sanctity of county borders. The state constitution requires, among other things, that legislative districts be drawn with "due regard" for the boundaries of political subdivisions. These have been breached before, but never to the extent of the latest redistricting.

The fact that the court divided 5-2 on this issue -- its two previous redistricting opinions were unanimous -- attests to its difficulty. The majority opinion states frankly the governor's plan "appears to have relied to some extent on improper non-legal criteria" that left it "perilously close to running afoul" of the state constitution. But the balance of the constitutional requirements, the court ruled, was on the side of the governor's plan.

Legislative redistricting is an inherently political process, as the courts have long recognized. The politicians can't discard voters' constitutional rights, but they have some latitude in implementing them. One overriding consideration is the protection of minorities and maximizing their political clout. That is a major consideration in the new alignment of seats, particularly in the Baltimore metropolitan area. A three-judge federal panel will have more to say on that in dealing with a bTC separate set of challenges to the redistricting plan.

It is true, as the two dissenting judges said in this case, that counties have a special place in the state's political structure. So special, in fact, that legislative seats used to be allocated in a way that heavily favored the smaller, rural counties until a generation ago. That bias toward territory over people was demolished by the Supreme Court in 1962. Similarly, the Court of Appeals has now determined that the welfare of voters, not artificial barriers drawn on maps more than 75 years ago, are what deserve constitutional protection.

The needs and interests of Baltimore's metropolitan area have increasingly become interdependent. Drawing legislative lines to reflect population rather than geography strengthens the region's ability to deal with its problems constructively.

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