The Maryland Senate approved Tuesday the revision of a hotly contested map redrawing the state’s eight congressional districts that detractors blasted as politically motivated.
The 30-13 vote by the majority-Democrat chamber now ships the revised map across the hall to the House of Delegates for approval ahead of a court-ordered deadline.
The House’s Rules and Executive Nominations Committee will review the bill and discuss it Tuesday so the full House can vote on it by Wednesday.
The decision comes after an Anne Arundel County judge ruled Friday that the previous map from the Democrat-controlled General Assembly was unconstitutional and a case of “extreme gerrymandering.”
Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said during a press briefing after Tuesday’s vote that the new map passes muster based on guidance from Attorney General Brian Frosh, is more compact and nearly equally divides the state’s population among each district.
When asked what will happen if the court doesn’t approve the map it’s scheduled to review during a hearing Friday, Ferguson said the judiciary “is separate … and has its own processes.”
“There is an open legal question to whether the judiciary has the ability to draw a map when there is clear, outlining provision that legislatures are in charge of redistricting,” he said. “That is a question for someone else down the line. … We passed a new congressional map we think is a balanced approach that complies with that [court] order.”
Ferguson said work on the map was conducted over the weekend under the advice of Frosh because the legislature has only five days to approve a new one.
During earlier debate about the map on the Senate floor, Sen. Michael Hough, a Republican who represents portions of Carroll and Frederick counties, didn’t mince words concerning his disapproval of the map.
“This map, while prettier, it’s nothing more than lipstick on a pig,” said Hough, who resides in Frederick County.
The discussion about the map began early Tuesday morning before the Senate’s Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, which recommended approval.
Republicans on the virtual hearing didn’t appreciate not being involved in the process and not having public input.
“Don’t we need to have some kind of analysis … where Maryland is at a state?” Said House Minority Leader Jason Buckel (R-Allegany County).
“We wanted to comply with the order the court gave us on Friday evening,” Ferguson said.
The new map nixed the expansion of the 1st Congressional District across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge into Democrat-heavy neighborhoods in Anne Arundel County, which would have provided more competition for Rep. Andy Harris, the state’s only Republican member in Congress and a supporter of former President Donald Trump. The district currently runs north and south with a large GOP influence along the Eastern Shore and portions of Baltimore, Harford and Carroll counties.
Former state Del. Heather Mizeur, a Democrat, seeks to challenge Harris for the seat.
The proposed map situates all of Harford County in the 1st Congressional District, while Baltimore City would go from spanning three congressional districts to two.
No jurisdiction would house more than three congressional districts. The 3rd Congressional District, currently represented by John Sarbanes, encompasses Baltimore City and four counties — Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery. That district proposes to house three Anne Arundel, Carroll and Howard counties.
The proposed map has the 5th Congressional District encompassing all of the Upper Marlboro area in Prince George’s County, part of which is currently in the 4th Congressional District represented by Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Maryland). The seat is currently open after Brown vacated it to run for state attorney general.
In addition, the map notes each of the congressional districts has an average population of 771,925. The 4th Congressional District still has the highest population of Black residents, estimated at 426,571.
A few residents testified during the virtual hearing, including Liliana Norkaitis, a high school senior from Harford County, who said the proposed map still creates seven Democratic strongholds.
“I know we can do better,” she said from her classroom. “I’m asking for the state to have equal representation.”
Nicole Bennett, a resident of Southern Maryland in the 5th Congressional District, currently represented by Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) and including Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties, said stretching the district farther into Prince George’s would dilute certain voices where she lives on issues such as gun rights.
“We are not going to have our voices heard,” she said.