In re 2022 Legislative Districting of the State

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Citation481 Md. 507,282 A.3d 147
Docket Number21, 24, 25, 26, 27, Sept. Term, 2021
Decision Date31 August 2022

481 Md. 507
282 A.3d 147


No. 21, 24, 25, 26, 27, Sept. Term, 2021

Court of Appeals of Maryland.

August 31, 2022

Submitted by David Whitney, pro se (Annapolis, MD), for Petitioner in Misc. No. 24, Sept. Term, 2021

Submitted by Steven M. Sullivan, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Robert A. Scott, Asst. Atty. Gen. and Brian E. Frosh, Atty. Gen. of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), for Respondent in Misc. No. 24, Sept. Term, 2021

Argued by Strider L. Dickson (Brenton H.J. Conrad, McAllister, DeTar, Showalter & Walker LLC, Annapolis, MD), for Petitioners in Misc. No. 25, Sept. Term, 2021

Argued by Ann M. Sheridan, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Steven M. Sullivan, Sol. Gen., Robert A. Scott, Asst. Atty. Gen. and Brian E. Frosh, Atty. Gen. of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), for Respondent in Misc. No. 25, Sept. Term, 2021

Amici Curiae Bipartisan Former Governors: Marina Eisner, Esquire, Christine P. Sun, Esquire, States United Democracy Center, 1101 17th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036, Jonathan L. Williams, Esquire, Jonathan L. Williams, P.A., 113 South Monroe Street, First Floor, Tallahassee, FL 32301

Argued by David K. Bowersox (Hoffman, Comfort, Offutt, Scott & Halstad, LLP, Westminster, MD), for Petitioners in Misc. No. 26, Sept. Term, 2021

Argued by Ann M. Sheridan, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Steven M. Sullivan, Sol. Gen., Robert A. Scott, Asst. Atty. Gen. and Brian E. Frosh, Atty. Gen. of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), for Respondent in Misc. No. 26, Sept. Term, 2021

Argued by Seth E. Wilson, pro se (Hagerstown, MD), for Petitioners in Misc. No. 27, Sept. Term, 2021

Argued by Ann M. Sheridan, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Steven M. Sullivan, Sol. Gen., Robert A. Scott, Asst. Atty. Gen. and Brian E. Frosh, Atty. Gen. of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), for Respondent in Misc. No. 27, Sept. Term, 2021

Submitted to and Argued before:* Getty, C.J., Watts, Hotten, Booth, Biran, Gould, Robert N. McDonald (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

McDonald, J.

481 Md. 518
282 A.3d 153

The Maryland Constitution requires that the boundaries of the State's legislative districts be adjusted after each decennial national census. Those adjustments are necessary to ensure that each district remains reasonably equal in population following any population shifts that have occurred in the State since the previous census. Any changes to the legislative districts to account for population shifts must be made with an eye on other State and federal Constitutional requirements concerning districting.

The Maryland Constitution assigns the decisions on how to re-draw district lines to the political branches of State government - the Governor and the General Assembly. Inevitably, there are disputes about the best way to re-draw the district maps and - more importantly for our purposes - about whether the new districts comply with the constitutional criteria. And so, every 10 years, one or more challenges are asserted to the latest legislative districting plan. It falls to this Court, as directed by the State Constitution, to consider those challenges, to decide whether burdens have been satisfied and challenges have merit and, if the challenges are found to have merit, to determine the appropriate relief.

The Bottom Line

This case concerns the most recent districting plan adopted by the General Assembly. On the tightest timeline in the modern history of redistricting, the General Assembly adopted a new plan for State legislative districts earlier this year. The validity of that plan was promptly challenged by four separate petitions. Consistent with past practice, the Court enlisted the assistance of a special magistrate to conduct a hearing and provide findings of fact and conclusions of law concerning the issues raised by the challengers. At the conclusion of that process, the special magistrate recommended that the challenges be rejected.

481 Md. 519

The challengers filed exceptions to the special magistrate's recommendation. On April 13, 2022, the Court heard oral arguments on those exceptions and, later that day, denied the petitions by order with an opinion to follow. This is that opinion.

The Roadmap

This Court's opinions analyzing prior challenges to Maryland redistricting plans occupy 358 pages of the Maryland Reports. We are about to add to that number. To aid the reader in navigating this opinion, we offer this roadmap (For those readers who rely on GPS devices for navigation and do not know what a roadmap is, these are the turn-by-turn directions).

Part I of this opinion (pp. 520-37, 282 A.3d at 154-64) describes the constitutional provisions governing redistricting and in particular the criteria for redistricting plans as construed in this Court's prior decisions. Part II of this opinion (pp. 537-54, 282 A.3d at 164-75) provides an overview of the redistricting process in the current cycle, beginning with the release of 2020 census data, the actions taken by the Governor and General Assembly in the adoption of a redistricting plan, the petitions challenging that plan, and the proceedings in this Court to resolve those challenges. Part III of this opinion (pp. 554-57, 282 A.3d at 175-76) outlines the role of the Court in assessing

282 A.3d 154

challenges to a redistricting plan and the burdens of proof that apply. Part IV of this opinion (pp. 558-604, 282 A.3d at 177-205) discusses in detail the proceedings and evidence relating to the petition filed in Miscellaneous No. 25, the primary challenge to the redistricting plan. Part V (pp. 604-09, 282 A.3d at 205-08) and Part VI (pp. 609-14, 282 A.3d at 208-11) of this opinion do the same for the petitions filed in Miscellaneous No. 26 and Miscellaneous No. 27, respectively. Part VII of this opinion (pp. 614-15, 282 A.3d at 211-12) briefly summarizes the disposition of the petitions challenging the redistricting plan. Appendices attached to this opinion include the Court's April 13, 2022 order and maps displaying State legislative districts under the redistricting plan and under the previous redistricting plan approved 10 years ago.

481 Md. 520

Dissenting opinions have been filed by former Chief Judge Getty and Judge Gould (both joined by Judge Biran). For ease of reference, we will refer to Chief Judge Getty's opinion, the primary dissent, as "Dissent" and Judge Gould's opinion, which focuses on specific issues, as "Dissent (Gould, J.)."


Districting the General Assembly

A. Historical and Constitutional Context

A brief history of State legislative redistricting in Maryland establishes the historical and constitutional context for this case.

1. Historical Context

As of the early 1960s, the Maryland Constitution assigned specific numbers of legislators to each county and Baltimore City, but did not set forth any general criteria for the design of legislative districts.1 In 1964, the Supreme Court held that the existing apportionment of the Maryland Senate violated the one-person, one-vote principle derived from the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Maryland Committee for Fair Representation v. Tawes, 377 U.S. 656, 84 S.Ct. 1429, 12 L.Ed.2d 595 (1964).

During 1967 and 1968, a State constitutional convention was held to devise a new Maryland Constitution. Among other things, the new constitution proposed by that convention

481 Md. 521

would have remedied the constitutional defect in the apportionment of the General Assembly. The proposed constitution was ultimately rejected by the voters, but several elements of it were adopted in 1970 and 1972 as amendments to the existing 1867 Maryland Constitution. See Dan Friedman, The Maryland State Constitution: A Reference Guide (2006) at 9-10. Among those amendments were provisions, specific to State legislative redistricting, responsive to the Supreme Court decision in Tawes. See Chapter 785, Laws of Maryland 1969, ratified November 3, 1970; Chapter 363, Laws of Maryland 1972, ratified November 7, 1972. Those provisions currently appear in Article III, § 2 through § 5 of the Maryland Constitution.

282 A.3d 155

2. State Constitutional Standards and Process

The Legislative Department

Article III of the Maryland Constitution pertains to the Legislative Branch - or, as the article is entitled, the "Legislative Department" - of State government.2 The first seven sections of that Article concern the make-up of the General Assembly. Section 1 specifies that the General Assembly is a bicameral legislature, consisting of a Senate and a House of Delegates. Section 2 provides that the Senate shall have 47 members and the House of Delegates shall have 141 members. Under § 3, there are to be 47 legislative districts, each...

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