By Len Lazarick
Gov. Larry Hogan’s is again pushing to create an independent commission to draw congressional and legislative district lines.
The retired federal judge Hogan appointed to head the commission that made the recommendation said the state needs to fix its oddly shaped, highly partisan congressional district lines or federal judges will do it for Maryland.
Reacting to the push to cure Maryland’s gerrymandered districts that have left only one Republican among its 10 members of Congress, 26 Senate Democrats are co-sponsoring a bill that would create an independent commission to draw the lines. But it would only happen if five nearby states also established independent commissions for redistricting and reapportionment.
“This not a battle between right and left, it’s between right and wrong,” Hogan told a news conference Friday where reporters were outnumbered 10 to 1 by supporters of redistricting reform. Hogan said he didn’t want to wait for others to fix the problem in Congress or other states.
“We just think that somebody needs to take action,” Hogan said.
Federal courts could act
Retired U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams described the situation as a “litigious mess” with numerous cases moving through federal courts around the country. Under a new court strategy based on First Amendment rights of association, the move to throw out gerrymandered districts has “got new juice.”
“The Supreme Court or the judges in this state are going to wind up drawing lines,” Williams told the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Friday.
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore, the EHE chair and a member of the commission Hogan appointed to make recommendations, again complained that the commission did not hold hearings in the city or other areas of the state with majority African American populations.
EHE Vice-chair Paul Pinsky questioned why Hogan wouldn’t support efforts in Congress to fix redistricting by Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen.
“We applaud that,” said Hogan legislative chief Christopher Shank, but “Maryland shouldn’t wait for others to act.”
The bill sponsored by Sen. Craig Zucker, D-Montgomery, SB1023, would set up an independent five-member commission, with four appointed by the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate. But it would only act if similar independent bodies for redrawing lines were set by New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina.
“It’s a national issue,” Zucker told the EHE committee, on which he also serves. “I believe it’s got to be a team effort.”
New Jersey already has an independent commission, and New York is setting one up. Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina do not and all have Republican-controlled legislatures.