High court considers legislative district challenges -- Gazette.Net


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A pair of Maryland lawmakers renewed their fight against the state’s new legislative district map this week, as their lawyer urged the state’s high court to throw out the new boundaries.

Baltimore County Sens. James Brochin (D-Dist. 42) of Towson and Delores G. Kelley (D-Dist. 10) of Randallstown have filed a legal challenge, arguing that the map creates six Senate districts in Baltimore when the city’s population only warrants five.

Their attorney, Jonathan Shurberg, told the seven judges of Maryland’s Court of Appeals on Wednesday that the map violated the state constitution’s stipulation that districts show “due regard” for “natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions” by stretching District 44 across the Baltimore city limits into Baltimore County.

“It was not necessary to have this crossing,” Shurberg said.

Assistant Attorney General Dan Friedman countered that simply having a district that crossed county borders didn’t violate due regard. Furthermore, the new District 44 made sure that the black community on either side of the county line wasn’t divided, Friedman said.

Kelley and Brochin told reporters that because Baltimore city’s population had decreased over the past 10 years and Baltimore County’s had increased, a new, shared district would give the city more seats in the Senate than it warranted.

Baltimore County’s population increased from about 754,000 in 2000 to about 809,000 in 2010; Baltimore city’s population declined from about 651,000 in 2000 to about 619,000 in 2010, according to census data.

“We were expendable,” Brochin said. “It’s about Baltimore city losing population, but the powers that be insisting that they maintain representation.”

Brochin’s district, once more centrally located around Towson, now extends north to the Pennsylvania border. Kelley’s district now extends north of Owings Mills, and areas along Baltimore city’s eastern border are now part of District 44

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) submitted the new map, which adjusted the boundaries for the state’s delegate and senate districts based on the most recent census data, to the General Assembly in January. Lawmakers took no action, and the map automatically became law in February.

The high court heard arguments in two other challenges to the map Wednesday.

One, filed by Christopher Bouchat of Woodbine, argued that the state legislature should be organized similarly to the scheme laid out for the U.S. Congress in the U.S. Constitution, with two senators from each county and all delegates elected from single-member districts that could not cross county lines.

The other, filed on behalf of 22 voters from across the state, argued that the new map violated the federal Voting Rights Act by not giving enough seats to majority-black districts.

A special report, prepared for the court by retired Judge Alan M. Wilner and released in October, recommended that the judges deny all three challenges.

It was not immediately clear when the court was expected to issue a ruling on the challenges, but Shurberg said he expected it by the end of December.

dleaderman@gazette.net