(CN) — Saying a new U.S. House district map passed by Maryland’s General Assembly was skewed to unfairly favor Democrats, a state court judge blocked the drawing Friday.
The 94-page ruling penned by Senior Judge Lynne Battaglia marks the first time this redistricting cycle that a map drawn by Democrats has lost in court.
The Anne Arundel County Circuit Court jurist sided with Republican groups in the consolidated suit that said the new map violated a 1972 Maryland state constitution amendment that mandates districts be compact and adhere to natural boundaries. In turn, Battaglia ordered the General Assembly back to the drawing board to submit new congressional maps that adhere to the law.
“The limitation of the undue extension of power by any branch of government must be exercised to ensure that the will of the people is heard, no matter under which political placard those governing reside,” she wrote, adding that the map passed “subverts that will of those governed.”
“All of the testimony in this case supports the notions that the voice of Republican voters was diluted and their right to vote and be heard with the efficacy of a Democratic voter was diminished,” Battaglia continued.
While the office of Maryland’s Democratic attorney general Brian Frosh said Friday it had not yet decided whether it will appeal the ruling, the case would likely head to the state’s highest court, the Maryland Court of Appeals, if appealed.
Agreeing with Battaglia’s take, Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan lauded the victory in a statement Friday, saying the ruling “puts in plain view the partisan, secretive, and rigged process” under which the state’s maps are designed.
Hogan had previously vetoed the new map, although his veto was overridden by state lawmakers. In the Maryland House and Senate, Democrats hold supermajorities, which gave them an advantage when sketching new lines to divide the state up into eight districts.
Republican plaintiffs had said the contested map added thousands of Democratic voters from Anne Arundel County to another district where Democratic U.S. House Representative Andy Harris currently holds a seat, in an effort to turn it more blue. Overall, the map would have put more Democratic voters in seven of the states eight districts.
Hogan said in his statement Friday that he supported maps created by a nonpartisan Citizens Redistricting Commission and hoped that the General Assembly would pass one of those.
The Republican-aligned group Fair Maps Maryland also celebrated the ruling, which comes just a few months ahead of the state’s July 19, 2022 primary election, as a win.
“To call this a big deal would be the understatement of the century,” the group’s spokesman Doug Mayer said, faulting Frosh for supporting the map. “Judge Battaglia’s ruling confirms what we have all known for years — Maryland is ground zero for gerrymandering, our districts and political reality reek of it, and there is abundant proof that it is occurring.”
Joshua Graham, CEO of the bipartisan voting rights group RepresentUs, said the court was right to throw the map out.
“Maryland’s congressional map is a textbook example of extreme partisan gerrymandering, and the court is right to scrap it. We’ve seen time and time again this redistricting cycle: When politicians of either party are in control of drawing maps, they’re going to rig districts to lock in as much power as possible,” Lynn explained in a statement.
Maryland’s map was not the only one chosen by Democratic state lawmakers to face scrutiny. Republicans previously lost a suit challenging Oregon maps. GOP voters in Ohio are also pursuing a suit against Democrat-drawn a map approved before the Ohio Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice has taken Texas to court in a federal suit over gerrymandering that claims the Lone Star State violated the Voting Rights Act by drawing political maps that decrease the voting power of Black and Latino voters.
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