High court tells cause for district revisions

Map by governor crossed too many subdivision lines, majority's opinion says

August 27, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Court of Appeals released yesterday its justification for its June ruling that held the state's redistricting plan unconstitutional and redrew the map in a way that drastically reduced Baltimore's power and influence in the legislature.

Chief Judge Robert M. Bell's 103-page opinion criticized Gov. Parris N. Glendening's original redistricting plan for attempting to increase the number of legislative districts that crossed subdivision lines to 22, up from 18.

"There is simply an excessive number of political subdivision crossings in this redistricting plan, such that it cannot be justified as necessary to meet federal constitutional and statutory requirements," Bell wrote.

He said the judges on the state's highest court drew the new lines without regard to politics and incumbency, focusing instead on such constitutional requirements as the need for the lines to be compact and contiguous.

But in her dissenting opinion, Judge Irma S. Raker said the majority opinion failed to give sufficient reasons for its criticism of legislative district lines that cross city and county boundaries.

Raker said the court allowed the crossings between Baltimore City and Baltimore County in 1993, but eliminated them in the 2002 plan because of issues of "compactness" -- even though it has never been made clear what constitutes "compact" or "contiguous" on district maps.

"The majority ... seems to have put the cart before the horse in its review of the state's 2002 plan, by jumping straight to the imposition of its `remedy' without first engaging in a serious analysis of whether, how, or why the state's plan violates state or federal law," Raker said.

The court's ruling in June was the result of more than a dozen lawsuits against the state's redistricting plan. The redrawing of the district lines touched off a series of unexpected political consequences for incumbents in Baltimore.

Under the court's plan, Baltimore lost four senators and 11 delegates as the court moved to contain all of the city's districts within its boundaries. In addition, the new plan could cost influential city leaders their seats in the legislature.

"There really is no explanation of why they did what they did to Baltimore City," said David Paulson, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party. "What they did was they wrote the law rather than interpreted the law."

The court's decision was a victory for Republicans, who charged that Glendening simply used the redistricting process to carry out his personal political agenda.

"From our perspective, we're pleased with what the court did," said Paul Ellington, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party. "We understand they had a tough job. It's unfortunate that they had to step in because the current administration was so vindictive and political."

The ruling in June came amid dispute over the court's unprecedented disclosure that several Democratic lawmakers contacted judges to talk about legislative redistricting while the cases were pending.

The judges said they cut off the conversations as soon as it became apparent that redistricting was the subject. But Republicans and some Democrats criticized the legislators for their actions, and the state Republican Party filed ethics complaints against the lawmakers.

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