Md. lawmakers say maps can withstand challenge

June 30, 1995|By Thomas W. Waldron and Frank Langfitt | Thomas W. Waldron and Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writer Scott Higham contributed to this article.

Race played an important role in shaping several legislative and congressional districts in Maryland, but some of the people who drew them say they believe that the state's political maps could withstand any challenges prompted by yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

They note that while race was a reason for drafting the districts four years ago, it was only one factor in a complicated mix that included geography, history and politics.

Even Maryland Republicans, who have used other arguments to challenge redistricting plans put in place by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, predicted that the ruling would have no effect in the state.

"We have some very perverse districts that were drawn in the last redistricting," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, R-Howard County. "But most of them were not drawn for racial purposes. They were drawn for political purposes."

In 1991, using data from the 1990 census, the General Assembly created a new 4th District in Prince George's and Montgomery counties with a majority black population. The district's voters elected Democrat Albert R. Wynn, pushing to two the number of blacks in Congress from Maryland.

State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a key architect of the new district's lines, acknowledged that the legislature wanted to create a second majority-black district in Maryland. Legal advisers said federal voting rights law required the state to create black districts wherever possible, he said.

"Race was certainly a factor," said Mr. Miller, a Prince George's Democrat. But he said that the district is not "unusually shaped" and merely reflects the growing black population in Prince George's and eastern Montgomery counties.

The other black member of the state's congressional delegation, Rep. Kweisi Mfume, said he sees no threat to his majority-black ** 7th District in Baltimore City and Baltimore County because it has remained largely unchanged through two rounds of redistricting.

"It's pretty much the way it has always been," Mr. Mfume said.

Anne Arundel County Republicans sued in 1991 to overturn the congressional redistricting, arguing that the county had been unfairly divided among four districts to help Democrats. But the Supreme Court upheld the plan in May 1992.

Race played a clear role in the creation of a handful of state legislative districts as well.

In Prince George's County, for example, the General Assembly created a new single-member district designed to elect a black candidate.

And in the Baltimore area, the legislature came up with a new, majority-black district along the Liberty Road corridor that straddles the city-county line. Last year, voters from the district elected four black lawmakers.

Such a district was necessary to satisfy federal law at the time, according to Allan J. Lichtman, a history professor at American University who advised the state's five-member redistricting commission in 1991.

"The district unites communities that have a lot in common," Dr. Lichtman said. "It's not bizarre in shape. If you didn't know that was a black district, it wouldn't scream at you for attention."

The Maryland Republican Party challenged the legislative redistricting plan, as did the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which argued that it didn't go far enough to create districts favorable to black candidates.

Last year, a federal court partially agreed and ordered the state to redraw lines on the Eastern Shore to create a majority-black district to elect one member of the House of Delegates. Even so, its voters last year elected a white candidate, Don B. Hughes.

Meanwhile, lawyers involved in another Eastern Shore case said they were confident that yesterday's decision would not derail a recent court-ordered voting plan.

In that case, a federal appeals panel this month ordered Worcester County to hold a County Commission election in the fall using newly drawn districts to increase the chance of a black commissioner being elected for the first time.

"It's very clear that there is a compelling interest that justifies . . . the plan for Worcester County," said Deborah A. Jeon, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union representing black plaintiffs in the case.

Stuart Comstock-Gay, director of the state ACLU, predicted that yesterday's decision will make it harder to draw districts that are likely to elect minority officials.

"I don't think anything will be thrown out that's in place in Maryland," he said. "But I think it will clearly change the calculation in the future."

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