Across the state, the new lines divide minorities among multiple districts, preventing the creation of a new, third congressional district dominated by minorities. Maryland Republican leaders and a grass-roots group that unsuccessfully urged that such a district was natural in part of Montgomery County called on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether O’Malley (D) and Democrats racially gerrymandered Maryland’s congressional map for their party’s gain.
As a result, the day’s developments in Annapolis may have marked the end of the political battle over the state’s redistricting but only the start of legal ones.
“We believe the governor has violated the Voting Rights Act, and we ask the Justice Department to look at what the state of Maryland has done and to decide,” said Radamase Cabrera, a community activist with the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee.
For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act has mostly been used to force states to weigh if districts are drawn to allow blacks to pick the candidates of their choosing. But with an increasingly diverse population, it is morphing into an ever more complicated and nuanced test of minorities’ voting rights, election law experts say.
Fast-growing Hispanic and Asian communities as well as more mingling of minority and white neighborhoods are forcing states, federal courts and the Justice Department to consider whether minority voters in different corners of the country have more in common with one another than with white voters and, therefore, if they should be lumped together for elections.
Redistricting litigation is pending in 22 states, and in nearly half of those — including many of the largest states critical to control of the House of Representatives — arguments about how to treat amalgamations of African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and other minorities are expected to become the focal point of courtroom battles, experts say.
“This is only going to become a bigger and bigger issue as the country grows ever more diverse,” said Justin Levitt, an elections law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and who runs the Web site All About Redistricting, which tracks legal challenges in the 50 states. “The legal claim is going to be that either the groups were drawn together didn’t deserve it, or the groups that were split up didn’t deserve that, either.”
It’s an issue that Virginia and most other Southern states automatically come under scrutiny for because they are required to submit all redistricting plans to the Justice Department for review.