A Prince George’s judge on Monday ordered the county council to throw out the widely criticized redistricting map it approved this fall and instead implement one proposed by a nonpartisan committee — a decision the council said it would appeal “immediately.”
A group of residents last week filed a lawsuit in which their lawyer argued that the map was improperly passed via a resolution, which does not require a signature from the county executive, rather than a bill, which does.
Snoddy agreed, permanently barring the council from “acting upon, implementing or otherwise presenting the redistricting plan in CR-123-2021 to any entity.” Instead, he ruled, a second map approved by a nonpartisan redistricting commission, which made only small tweaks to district boundaries to account for population changes, should be considered law and must be submitted to any entities responsible for redistricting.
County Council Chair Calvin Hawkins (D-At Large) did not return requests for comment. Council spokeswoman Karen Campbell said in a statement Monday evening that the council had received the judge’s order and was aware of the Feb. 22 filing deadline for candidates. She did not immediately respond to questions about how much the appeal would cost.
Unlike redistricting battles at the state and national levels, the fight in Prince George’s — a county where about 85 percent of residents are Black or Latino — is being fought among Democrats, as a mostly younger, more liberal generation of leaders clashes with the county’s more moderate political establishment. And with election season underway in the deep-blue county, Snoddy’s decision sparked excitement among liberal politicians and groups.
Larry Stafford Jr., executive director of the grass-roots group Progressive Maryland, which is pushing to get more liberal leaders on the council, said the ruling left him hopeful those candidates would “have a fair shot.”
“It is unfortunate to hear that certain members of the council want to pursue further appeals to waste public dollars to rig elections in their favor,” Stafford said.
The lawsuit was funded by the campaign of former county council member Eric Olson, whose home of more than 20 years was moved from District 3 to District 1 by the council’s plan. Olson, who considers himself a political progressive, was sometimes at odds with the county’s political establishment while on the council, particularly on development-related issues.
“Justice prevailed,” Olson said Monday of the order. “And I am looking forward to getting back on the campaign trail.”
Krystal Oriadha, another council candidate who was drawn out of her district, moved from Seat Pleasant to Capitol Heights so that she could challenge incumbent council member Rodney Streeter (D-District 7). She said Monday that the judge’s order left her more confident that there would not be an attempt to remove her from the ballot. The redistricting map, she said, was an effort by the council’s majority to maintain power.
“The only thing they got out of it was stopping certain candidates from running,” Oriadha said. “It’s an example of why it is so important that we have a power shift.”
Tamara Davis Brown, who was drawn by the council’s map out of District 9, said in a statement that the judge’s order “corrects the Council’s flawed decision-making.” She said she had not yet made a decision about how best she “can serve the citizens of Prince George’s County in light of all the developments.”
Edward Burroughs III, who this month won the special primary election for District 8 on the council, urged the council to implement the map the nonpartisan commission had proposed.
“We are better than drawing people out of their districts in order to avoid competition,” Burroughs said. “We must do better than that.”
The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit was Lakeland Civic Association’s Robert Thurston, who said the redistricting effort felt like the latest example of government action being taken without input from the people affected. His historic community, which saw the government push out Black families in the 1970s in the name of urban renewal, would have been divided into two council districts in the new plan.
“The people spoke up and demanded that their voices be heard,” said Matthew G. Sawyer, the attorney who represented the plaintiffs, “and they were.”