October 27, 2011

State redistricting expert calls alternative plans outrageous

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By Glynis Kazanjian
Glynis@MarylandReporter.com

The expert the state hired to ensure Maryland’s Congressional redistricting plan was legally and constitutionally sound criticized alternative plans, calling them “ludicrous” and “outrageous,” though a court may have the final decision.

Fannie Lou Hamer PAC map

The redistricting map pushed by the Fannie Lou Hamer political action committee is displayed in Annapolis during the special session on redistricting. Photo by Glynis Kazanjian.

University of California Berkeley Political Science professor Bruce Cain, who was retained by Attorney General Douglas Gansler, dismissed Rep. Donna Edwards’ claim that minorities could not be elected without a majority-minority district.

“It’s ludicrous to claim that the only way a minority can get elected is to have a majority-minority seat that excludes whites . . . That claim will not stand up. It’ll get blown to pieces when the evidence is shown at trial,” Cain said during a phone interview while discussing a potential law suit against the state.

Cain also called a map creating a third African American district submitted by the Fannie Lou Hamer political action committee — newly formed by black leaders — “outrageous.” He said if the state were to adopt their plan, it could be susceptible to a racial gerrymandering legal challenge because of its configuration which resembles a barbell.

“That’s exactly the kind of district that Shaw v. Reno and various cases in the 1990s warned jurisdictions not to draw because that’s drawing a district predominately based on race,” Cain said. “You can take race into account, but you can’t make race your predominate consideration.”

“Every other outside group, even they don’t draw a district as outrageous as the Fannie Lou Hamer people . . . It is natural and normal for people to dress up a political argument in legal garb, and that is what is going on [here],” Cain said.

Cain submitted a report with a standard legal letter from Gansler to Gov. Martin O’Malley on October 20, outlining numerous legal arguments supporting the governor’s redistricting plan. The report included references to two U.S. Supreme Court cases, Thornburgh v Gingles and Shaw v Reno, possibly making a case for litigation down the road.

“Gingles,” a 1985 lawsuit centered on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and a likely legal challenge, requires three standards be met before a complaint of “vote dilution” be considered. These include a majority-minority voting-age population that can be drawn within a reasonable geographical compact area, a minority group that is politically cohesive, and a majority voting bloc that regularly votes to defeat minority supported candidates.

Plans for lawsuits
Marylanders for Fair and Coherent Representation, an offshoot of the Fannie Lou Hamer PAC, is opposed to the governor’s redistricting map. They recently announced plans to file a federal lawsuit in conjunction with the state Republican Party.

The group plans to challenge the state on several fronts, including claiming black voting rights were violated by vote dilution and racial gerrymandering. They claim support for their arguments in Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Radamese Cabrera, a spokesman for the Fannie Lou PAC and the Fair Representation Coalition, called plans approved by Maryland’s top elected officials “institutional racism.”

He argues that the state denied the creation of a third African American district because it did not look compact and contiguous, yet the shapes of the 3rd and 2nd Districts are “ridiculous.”

“It’s okay for the General Assembly, the Governor and the Attorney General to create a bizarre congressional district for the purpose of electing a white Democratic male, but somehow a third African American majority district has to look perfect. That’s nothing but 21st Century Jim Crow,” Cabrera said.

Coalitions, funding uncertain
Cabrera, who has been speaking publicly about a federal lawsuit and Department of Justice complaint, backtracked slightly on how soon the group would file and who would be joining in.

Previously Fannie Lou indicated the NAACP may have a role in the suit, but Cabrera said they may no longer be involved.

“FLH has been in constant dialogue with the Prince George’s chapter of the NAACP and with the Maryland state NAACP,” Cabrera said. “Right now we are disappointed because it appears that the national NAACP is choosing not to want to offend the national Democratic Party. This is reminiscent of what went on in the 2002 redistricting where there was a concerted effort by the national NAACP not to offend the Democratic Party’s efforts to control the House of Representatives.”

There is also a question of who will be funding the lawsuit. While Carletta Fellows, a spokeswoman for Marylanders for Fair Representation, said last week at an Annapolis press conference the state GOP would be the primary funding partner, state chairman Alex Mooney has been silent on the issue. While Mooney said the state Republican Party would support the coalition’s efforts to achieve a third African American district, he has yet to publicly comment on funding the endeavor.

“It is our intention not to rush to go into court with an incomplete class-action suit simply because there is excitement out there around whether or not we’re going to be in partnership with the Republican Party,” Cabrera said. “We agree with individuals saying that the Republican Party may be doing this to look like heroes within the black community. Fannie Lou Hamer takes no position on the motives of the Republican Party, [but] we accept that the Republicans are working in the best interests of communities in Maryland.”

Inmates not represented, either
Cabrera said the group will likely also challenge the state’s decision to exclude 6,000 prisoners in its adjusted population counts, calling Gansler “derelict” in his duties by allowing the state legislature to remove individuals from the Maryland census count.

Gansler addresses the point in his October 20 letter:  “The population figures have been adjusted as required by the No Representation Without Population Act . . . which requires that prisoners be counted in the place in which they resided prior to their incarceration, rather than in the place where they are incarcerated . . . Federal courts have generally allowed states to determine the appropriate method by which to calculate population,” the letter states.