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Hogan on high court ruling: ‘Gerrymandering is wrong, and both parties are guilty’

Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) will not see the boundaries of h is district change before the 2020 elections, following a Supreme Court decision on Thursday. (Brian Witte/AP)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan vowed Thursday to keep pushing for an independent redistricting overhaul in the state, putting him at odds with the Democrats who control the legislature, after the Supreme Court declined to throw out Maryland’s congressional map.

Hogan (R) said he will reintroduce a bill calling for the state to place the drawing of congressional districts in the hands of a nonpartisan commission, instead of the General Assembly, where Democrats hold veto-proof majorities in both chambers.

But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said only a national solution will do, placing the onus on President Trump and Congress to create a set of rules for states to follow.

The high court reversed a 2018 order directing Maryland to redraw the 6th District, which stretches from conservative Western Maryland to liberal Montgomery County, before the 2020 election.

Residents of the district had sued the state, arguing that the boundaries were unfairly refashioned after the 2010 Census to move Republican voters out and shift Democratic voters in. But the court — which earlier this month ruled that Virginia’s House Republicans did not have the legal right to challenge a decision that some of the state’s legislative districts were racially gerrymandered — said federal courts don’t have a role in deciding partisan gerrymandering claims.

“Today’s ruling was terribly disappointing to all who believe in fair elections,” said Hogan, who has drawn attention this year as a moderate Republican reelected in a blue state. “I pledge to vigorously continue this fight, both in Maryland and across our nation. Gerrymandering is wrong, and both parties are guilty.”

The decision means the 6th District seat held by Rep. David Trone (D) will probably remain in Democratic hands in 2020 and makes it likely that the state’s majority party will retain the upper hand in the next round of redistricting, after the 2020 Census.

Miller (D-Calvert) maintained that the map in question was always constitutional and passed the job of finding a national solution to Washington.

“The Supreme Court ruling only strengthens the need for Congress and the President to work together to create a set of rules across the country,” he said in a statement.

Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) said she was “disappointed that the Supreme Court didn’t offer a national solution to what is clearly a national problem.”

Unlike in the 2011 redistricting, when Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley’s objectives dovetailed with a legislature dominated by his party, lawmakers will have to contend with Hogan, who could veto maps he deems unfair or too partisan.

But the court’s ruling makes clear that partisanship is not grounds to declare a district illegal. And Democrats have the votes — 29 in the Senate and 85 in the House — to override a gubernatorial veto.

Once the domain of political wonks and insiders, redistricting has drawn more attention in recent years, as advocates and some politicians demand a more independent process. A handful of states have already created one.

Earlier this year, Democrats in the U.S. House called for states to establish independent, nonpartisan redistricting commissions. The bill passed on party lines.

Advocates say they hope lawmakers will be less partisan while redistricting in the future, if only to avoid the wrath of anti-gerrymandering constituents.

“There’s a lot of agreement that this has gotten ridiculous,” said Ashley Oleson, executive director of the Maryland chapter of the League of Women Voters. “They’re recognizing that people are really unhappy with the status quo.”

The specter of a new 6th District map prompted state Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington) to begin raising money for a possible candidacy in 2020. He has yet to decide whether he will run next year, or in 2022, but the court’s ruling means he will face longer odds either way.

“Many people in Western Maryland don’t feel represented in Congress right now and ­haven’t since the new maps came out in 2012,” said Parrott, who started a tea party chapter with his wife in Hagerstown in 2008. “It’s not fair to have someone from the Beltway area represent this area in D.C.”

Maryland’s redistricting saga started in 2011, when mapmakers reassigned hundreds of thousands of voters from conservative Western Maryland and liberal Montgomery County to different congressional districts.

Republicans became a distinct minority in the 6th District. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, reelected in 2010 by a 28 percentage-point margin, lost to Democrat John Delaney by double digits in 2012. Bartlett had held the seat since 1993.

In depositions, O’Malley and other Democrats plainly stated their goal: to draw seven of the state’s eight congressional districts to favor Democratic candidates. It worked. Today, Rep. Andy Harris is the only Republican member of Congress from Maryland.

Delaney was reelected twice before deciding to run for president. Trone won a competitive primary for the seat in 2018, spending $16 million of his own fortune on that race and the general election campaign.

The day after the November election, a three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit directed Maryland to redraw the district. Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

In the meantime, Hogan created an emergency commission charged with drawing a new map. The panel held hearings and solicited map proposals from the public, ultimately choosing one drawn by an Oregon-based writer for the liberal politics blog Daily Kos.

Hogan sent a bill to the General Assembly based on the commission’s favored map, but Democrats did not advance the legislation.

This story has been updated to include reaction to the ruling.

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