Gov. Larry Hogan signs new Maryland congressional map into law

Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday signed a new Maryland congressional map into law, ending legal battles over the congressional maps that had left Maryland’s campaigns in limbo.

Hogan (R) agreed to enact the new map after the Maryland attorney general’s office said it would abandon its appeal of a Maryland judge’s ruling that found the previous map was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. And Republican plaintiffs agreed to abandon challenges to the new map, which Democrats in the General Assembly passed last week. Hogan called the agreement a “tremendous victory for democracy.”

He said the map is “not perfect” but is a “huge step in the right direction.”

“It is miles away from the incredibly gerrymandered map that was thrown out by the court,” Hogan said.

The agreement means that, after months of legal wrangling, Maryland’s congressional map is set for the upcoming midterm elections and for the next decade.

Also on Monday, a special magistrate for the Maryland Court of Appeals recommended that the newly drawn state legislative map — the subject of separate legal challenges — should stand.

The new congressional map could have big implications in the upcoming midterm elections, shifting the outlook for some congressional races in Maryland at a time when national Democrats are at risk of losing control of Congress. The new map — with significantly more-compact districts — is likely to create seven Democratic seats, one of which would be more competitive in Western Maryland, and preserves one safe Republican seat on the Eastern Shore.

The map that was rejected by Anne Arundel County Senior Judge Lynne Battaglia would have preserved all seven Democratic seats and put the only Republican, Rep. Andy Harris, in jeopardy.

“The days of Maryland being known for some of the worst gerrymandered districts in the country are over,” said a statement from Doug Mayer, spokesman for Fair Maps Maryland, an anti-gerrymandering group aligned with Hogan. “This has been a long time coming, but we finally have Congressional districts that don’t look like prehistoric animals and aren’t specifically designed to suppress Marylander’s right to vote.”

Battaglia called the map Democrats passed in December a “product of extreme partisan gerrymandering” disadvantaging Republicans, joining a cohort of state judges across the country willing to take on the issue. She found the Maryland map violated rules in the state constitution requiring districts to be compact and to respect political subdivisions, among other things.

Battaglia’s ruling marked the first time in state history that a judge had applied those rules to congressional districts, rather than state legislative districts, after Democrats for years drew famously convoluted districts favoring their party.

On Monday, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) still appeared to push back on Battaglia’s ruling, saying that her “novel interpretation” of the constitution — and delays caused by the litigation — were “not in the public’s best interest.”

“In the interest of democracy, we have presented the Governor with this new Congressional map and believe it complies with the trial court judge’s brand new legal standards,” they said in a joint statement. “We are hopeful the Governor’s signature will bring an end to the unnecessary confusion for everyone involved.”

For years, Hogan has for has called on the state legislature to create a bipartisan commission to draw congressional and legislative boundaries. He said Monday that he will continue to push for legislative changes to the “flawed process … so that 10 years from now they won’t go back to their same old ways.”

“This is something that is wrong, no matter who does it — they’ve been doing it for decades,” Hogan said. “We’ve been fighting for eight years, and it’s great to finally get it done before we leave.”

A spokesman for the governor said that Battaglia’s approval of the congressional map would no longer be required.

Republicans in the General Assembly, some of whom sued over the previous congressional map, said they still believed the new map was gerrymandered but saw it as a significant improvement.

“It’s much fairer for the citizens of Maryland than the original map passed in December,” said Del. Neil C. Parrott of Washington County, who was one of the Republican plaintiffs and is running for Congress in the 6th District. “So overall, this is a huge victory for the citizens of Maryland to have a better map, where the citizens are actually choosing the politicians rather than the politicians picking the citizens.”

The new creates several key changes in Maryland’s congressional races this year. Democrats probably no longer have a viable chance to defeat Harris in the 1st District, which would have been competitive under the map rejected by Battaglia but remains solidly red under the new one.

The outlook also gets a bit drearier for Democrats in the 6th District in Western Maryland, where Rep. David Trone (D) has expressed concern he could end up as the one in jeopardy this November. And Republicans now see flipping the 6th District red as a tangible possibility for the first time in a decade.

Trone, the wealthy founder and owner of Total Wine and More, invested $2 million of his own money in his campaign last week, noting that “my race just got a lot more competitive,” and asked individual donors to chip in as well to help keep the seat blue. He expressed disappointment at how the district was drawn last week but on Monday appeared to have accepted it, saying that he was pleased that the legal fights over gerrymandering had come to an end.

“It’s a small but important step toward ending partisan gerrymandering,” he said, while also calling for a national solution to end gerrymandering. “Being disadvantaged by this process is a price I am willing to pay to move Maryland and our country forward.”

The newly drawn 6th District swung 13 points in Republicans’ favor after map-drawers removed a portion of blue Montgomery County from the district and decided to keep all of Frederick County within it, among other changes. President Biden still would have won the district by nearly 10 points in 2020, but analysts at FiveThirtyEight described the district as “highly competitive” last week and gave it an ever-so-slight Republican lean.

That has been an encouraging sign for Parrott, who lost to Trone in 2020 by nearly 20 points but believes he now has a chance to win under the new map.

“I’m looking forward to a spirited campaign,” Parrott said.

The map also includes significant changes to longtime incumbents’ districts. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) has represented the University of Maryland in College Park for decades, but that institution is now in the 4th District.

“While I am disappointed that the new Fifth District does not include College Park — including my beloved alma mater the University of Maryland — Greenbelt, Hyattsville, and other Prince George’s communities, I will continue to champion them in Congress on the issues that I’ve fought for throughout my career,” Hoyer said in a statement, before announcing that he would seek reelection in Maryland’s 5th District. It would be his 21st term.

Similarly, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), who focuses often on cybersecurity policy, has taken pride in having the National Security Agency and Fort Meade in his district, but those are also no longer part of his constituency.

Ruppersberger said he would continue to look out for the interests of those institutions, as well as the Aberdeen Proving Ground, the Chesapeake Bay and the Port of Baltimore — “just to name a few” — in his capacity on the House Appropriations Committee.

While the legal fight is officially over in the congressional realm, challenges to the state legislative districts appear close to being resolved in the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Retired Court of Appeals judge Alan M. Wilner, who presided over a two-day hearing last month on the challenged legislative boundaries, issued a 245-page report to the court Monday afternoon that recommends upholding the maps drawn by the General Assembly.

The full court still must issue a final ruling on the case. Last month the court delayed the primary until July 19 and pushed back filing deadlines to April 22 while the litigation continued over the maps.

The governor said he was hopeful that map would be thrown out as well. Even though it is a different set of legal issues, he argued that “the exact same process was done in both cases … backroom, in secret, behind closed doors by the Democratic caucus … with the same intent to protect the incumbents and to maintain their large majorities.”