Hearing on governor's redistricting map ends

Judge must submit report to high court by May 24

April 30, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Ending three days of testimony, critics and defenders of the governor's legislative redistricting plan gave closing arguments yesterday in about a dozen lawsuits calling for the map to be redrawn because of claims that it hurts minority representation and splits communities.

The critics want the Maryland Court of Appeals to change or force the state to change redistricting lines from Washington and Carroll counties to the west and the lower Eastern Shore in the south.

Albert Figinski, a lawyer representing critics of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's plan in Baltimore County and on the Eastern Shore, called the plan "horrible. ... This just isn't the greatest way."

Defending the plan, Carmen M. Shepard, a deputy attorney general, said 80 percent of Maryland's communities kept the same basic legislative districts they've had for the past 10 years. She said that throughout the hearing critics failed to present a viable plan that provided solutions to the odd twists that some of the districts had to take.

"Not a single one gave you a workable state plan," Shepard said. "It will always be a little funny-looking."

Yesterday's arguments concluded the hearing before retired Court of Appeals Judge Robert L. Karwacki, who was appointed by the court to hear the lawsuits. Karwacki must submit a report to the full court by May 24.

Karwacki told Figinski and other lawyers who might have proposals on how to redraw the district lines to submit their written recommendations to him by Friday. Some critics of the governor's plan proposed changes in their arguments throughout the hearing.

Unless the court orders changes to Glendening's redistricting plan, elections officials will follow the new lines. New lines are drawn every 10 years after the U.S. Census.

Critics of Glendening's plan charge that the governor went out of his way to protect incumbent Democrats and hurt Republicans, with little or no regard for state and federal voters rights laws.

"It looked like the constitutional requirements went out the window," said Richard Colaresi, a lawyer representing the city of College Park, which opposes part of the redistricting plan because it splits the city into multiple districts.

Another lawsuit alleges that lawmakers would have to cross the Patapsco River to reach part of their district under the plan. And Republicans question the way the governor drew the district lines on the Eastern Shore, lumping several counties together in a way that would force incumbent GOP senators to run against each other.

Critics say the governor could have drawn lines that would have given minorities - in particular African-Americans and Hispanics - greater opportunities to win seats in the legislature by increasing their population numbers in districts in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

Secretary of State John T. Willis said population pressures and the political efforts to protect incumbent Democrats forced the architects of the redistricting plan to craft the lines the way the did. He said more legislative districts cross county lines than under the current arrangement, but overall he believes the governor's plan will yield an increased number of minorities in the legislature.

"The idea was to disturb as few lines as possible," Willis said.

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