ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s first emergency redistricting commission met in Annapolis for the last time on Friday. And despite support from its members to continue a nonpartisan redistricting process moving forward, it remains unlikely to become the state’s new model.
With only a handful of days left in the General Assembly session, the state Senate has taken no substantial steps to advance Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) proposed redistricting legislation, and the House committee assigned the bills has voted against them.
Maryland will instead return to the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to defend the use of its current congressional map in the 2020 presidential election. Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) is challenging a lower court’s order to redraw the 6th District for, at most, one election, as part of an ongoing lawsuit on whether the state’s Democratic majority used partisan gerrymandering to dilute Republican votes during its last statewide redistricting in 2011.
“Generally the tone has been people are really fed up with gerrymandering and they are looking for something better in the future,” said Ashley Oleson, an unaffiliated voter appointed by Hogan to serve on the Emergency Commission for 6th District Gerrymandering.
Oleson is an administrator for the League of Women Voters of Maryland, whose national organization will host a rally at the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday in support of ending gerrymandering as the court hears Rucho v. Common Cause, consolidated with Rucho v. League of Women Voters of North Carolina, as well as Maryland’s case Lamone v. Benisek.
Walter Olson, a Republican selected by Hogan to co-chair the emergency commission, plans to attend the rally as he did in 2018 when the state’s case was first heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“It’s a show of support and of interest,” Olson said. “... My morale is always improved whenever I see people of all different walks of life and backgrounds coming to see this fixed.”
It is far from certain, however, that the court’s justices will finally pass down a ruling that would end partisan gerrymandering nationwide.
Last time, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on procedural grounds only that Maryland’s lower court had not erred in denying a preliminary injunction to stop the state from using the map in 2018.
The case returned to the U.S. District Court in Maryland, and a three-judge panel ruled in November 2018 that the 6th District had to be redrawn to respect “traditional criteria for redistricting.”
The judges gave Maryland until March 7 to redraw its 6th District, otherwise the court would assign a committee to draw the map. Hogan formed the Emergency Commission on 6th District Gerrymandering to fulfill the order.
The emergency commission held community listening sessions in western Maryland and a national map submission process to redraw the 6th District.
In March, the commission unanimously agreed on a new map that would return Frederick County completely to the 6th District along with western Maryland and a portion of Carroll and Montgomery counties. The remainder of the area will form a new 8th District.
“This isn’t a perfect proposed plan, but I think it’s the best we can do under difficult circumstances,” said retired Judge Alexander Williams Jr. (D), who is the Democratic co-chair of the commission.
Deborah Lundahl, a Frederick County residents who is one of three Republicans selected for the nine-member commission, said the experience has reenforced her belief in the need for a balanced redistricting process in the future. After the commission’s work is done, she said she planned to remain involved.
“I haven’t hesitated in the past to speak up, and I think I’ll make an even greater effort to be at public forums in the future,” Lundahl said.
The map faces an uncertain future in the legislature, which will receive the proposed map as emergency legislation before it is scheduled to adjourn on April 8. It is unclear if the legislature will be able to find consensus on the map in that short of time.
“If [Hogan] feels a need to call an emergency session, I would support that,” Lundahl said after the meeting on Friday.
Maryland will evaluate all its congressional boundaries following the decennial U.S. census in 2020.
“I’m just really hopeful that moving forward we will see a transparent process like this in the next redistricting cycle,” Oleson said.