Legislative district maps have long been used to assign both single-member and multi-member districts in Maryland, but a recent case in the Maryland Court of Appeals argued that the use of these districts conflicts with the state Constitution. The case argued that, since some districts are multi-member districts, Maryland residents are not given an equal vote.
The Case in the Maryland Court of Appeals
The issue at the heart of the case is the multi-member districts in Maryland. Because some residents have two or three delegates instead of just one, they are not afforded the same weight to their vote as those in single-member districts. This is in contrast to other states that either have single-member districts or multi-member districts. Maryland is the only remaining state that uses a mixture of single-member and multi-member districts in their legislative district maps. Approximately 50 years ago, after a series of U. S. Supreme Court decisions concerning legislative districting, most states moved away from mixed district maps and most of them decided to adopt single-member district maps.
The Maryland Constitution states that delegate districts should be contained within different senatorial districts. It retains a fifty year old provision that allows the use of a mix of single-member and multi-member districting in district maps but provides no standards or guidance as to where or when the various types of district will be established.
The use of mixed district maps has been challenged in In the Matter of 2022 Legislative Districting of the State of Maryland, Misc. No. 26 in the Maryland Court of Appeals. In that case the Petitioners’ attorney, David K. Bowersox, argue that voter inequality created by Maryland’s mixed districting practice violates significant state constitutional rights of Maryland voters including the Maryland Declaration of Rights free election provision (Article 7) and due process and equal protection provisions (Article 24). The scope of these protections should be applied to limit the use of a multi-member district only where the State can show a compelling state interest to do so. Twenty years ago the Supreme Court of North Carolina did just that in a challenge to that state’s mixed district practice relying on similar provisions of that state’s constitution in Stephenson v Bartlett.
A Special Magistrate heard evidence in the case on March 23 and 24, 2022. The state of Maryland argued that, if this were to be modified, it would require amending the Constitution, which would need to be done on the state level by the voters and not through a single court case. But, Petitioners in Misc. No. 26 have not asked the Court to strike down or amend any provisions of the Maryland Constitution. While the issues raised about multi-member districts in Maryland were acknowledged as valid by the Special Magistrate in his April 4, 2022 Report to the Court of Appeals, that does not mean that the Court was the appropriate venue to tackle them.
Additional Cases Are Being Raised
Beyond the specific case regarding multi-member districts in Maryland, there have been other related petitions filed against the current legislative map for the state. All of them state that the new districts are a violation of the Maryland Constitution because they do not follow natural and political boundaries in a fair fashion. One of the other cases states that numerous districts currently violate the constitutional requirement for compactness. Election analysts have compared these districts to over 13,000 others throughout the United States since 2002, and they found that District 12 in Maryland is particularly non-compact and potentially gerrymandered.
What Is the Problem With the Map?
Outside of the concerns listed above, many are concerned that the map seems to strengthen the reelection chances for numerous potentially vulnerable Democrats. While the map is similar to other districts that have been drawn in the past, that does not mean that it is not unfair and that the use of multi-member districts in Maryland is always appropriate.
Where Do Things Go From Here?
The attorney involved in some of these cases asked to throw out the districts that have been challenged and requested that the Maryland General Assembly draw the map and districts again. If that is not possible, as the legislative session ends on April 11, the attorney requested that the map created by Governor Hogan’s Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission be used instead.
Because there is no current solution to this issue, it remains to be seen how the state will proceed. It is clear that many legislators and citizens are concerned about the use of multi-member districts and whether or not their votes are being properly reflected in the representation that they receive on a state level.
In his April 4, 2022 Report to the Maryland State Court of Appeals the Special Magistrate recommended that all four of the current cases challenging the legislative map be denied. Exceptions to the Magistrates report were filed with the Court of Appeals on April 8th and the State of Maryland has until 4:30 on April 11th to file their own Exceptions. The case will be heard by the Court of Appeals on Wednesday, April 13, 2022.
As of April 4, Governor Hogan signed the new congressional map into law. This is after the map has already been redrawn once in response to a ruling in the Anne Arundel Circuit Court. Unless something changes as a result of the case pending in the Maryland Court of Appeals, the State’s legislative districting map will become law without changes.
Help for All Maryland Citizens
Hoffman, Comfort, Offutt, Scott & Halstad LLP is an established law practice dedicated to assisting auto accident victims throughout Maryland. We specialize in wills, estates, trusts, family law, business law, elder law and real estate law. To get in touch or schedule your consultation, call us at your convenience at (410) 848-4444. We are here to help you get the restitution that you deserve and start on the path to healing.