Only minor change in redistricting advised

Special master suggests Court of Appeals uphold most of Glendening map

May 22, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

A retired judge recommended yesterday that the Maryland Court of Appeals uphold almost all of the governor's legislative redistricting plan, dismissing arguments that it hurts minority representation and divides such communities as Dundalk and Hampstead.

But retired Court of Appeals Judge Robert L. Karwacki called for a change to the lower Eastern Shore map, saying Somerset County should be joined with Worcester and Wicomico counties to restore the district of Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus.

"No acceptable reason has been presented, in my view, to justify divergence from the longstanding tradition of including the lower shore counties in one legislative district," wrote Karwacki, who was appointed as a special master by the court to hear arguments on the 14 legal challenges to the plan.

As for arguments that the map presented by Gov. Parris N. Glendening diminishes minority representation in the General Assembly, Karwacki found that the number of districts in which blacks and other minorities make up the majority of voters appropriately reflects Maryland's population.

Lawmakers involved in drawing up the redistricting plan praised Karwacki's opinion, which the court will consider in issuing its ruling in the lawsuits. But opponents said he ignored obvious violations of the Maryland Constitution, and they pledged to press ahead with their challenges before the full court.

"I think the report is marred by many errors, both legal and factual," said Sam Hirsch, a lawyer representing Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry. "The judge seems to have ignored ... that in Maryland - and especially in Prince George's County - majority black districts typically elect black legislators. ... This is a map that entrenches white Democratic incumbents."

Glendening's map for redistricting - a process required once a decade to reflect the latest census data on population changes - shifts two state Senate districts from the Baltimore region to the fast-growing Washington suburbs. It affects all 188 legislators.

The map automatically took effect on the 45th day of the General Assembly session when lawmakers failed to make any changes to it.

The governor and his allies argue that the new map meets legal requirements, including that districts be within 5 percent of their ideal population and that minorities have a fair chance at getting elected where possible.

"I think that for the most part the special master vindicates the governor's plan and the governor's decision with regard to redistricting," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a member of the governor's redistricting advisory panel.

"It's a very tough and difficult process, especially when you have major population shifts and especially when you have to comply with the edict of the Supreme Court that follows the principle of one district, one vote."

M. Albert Figinski, an attorney representing Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. and some other Dundalk-area politicians, agreed that it was difficult for challengers to create competing maps - but he said that doesn't excuse problems with the plan.

"The problem appears to be that no one was able to present an acceptable alternative plan, which in my view puts the burden on the wrong party," Figinski said. "If something is unconstitutional, it shouldn't be the challengers' burden to propose a fix."

The lawmaker with the most to celebrate yesterday was Stoltzfus, an Eastern Shore Republican and the Senate minority leader. Stoltzfus moved into a new home on the Pocomoke River in November, and Glendening's plan placed that area into the district of another Republican, Sen. Richard F. Colburn - potentially forcing Stoltzfus to find a new house.

"It was the common sense thing to do and the right thing to do," Stoltzfus said of Karwacki's opinion. Figinski, who also represents Stoltzfus, said the court must now decide whether to adopt the change.

Lawyers have 10 days to file written objections to Karwacki's opinion, and the court has scheduled a hearing for June 10. It is expected to rule by the end of June, and Assembly candidates will have until July 8 to file for the fall election.

The plan's impact on minorities also in being challenged in U.S. District Court, which is scheduled to hear arguments in July.

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