Judge accepts Baltimore County Council’s redrawn map with majority black district
A judge has accepted a Baltimore County Council corrective map with a majority black council district.
U.S. District Court Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby told a status conference on Thursday afternoon that the new map drawn by the Baltimore County Board is better than the one she canceled in February because it gives black voters a chance to elect the candidate of their choice.
About 30% of Baltimore County residents are black, according to U.S. Census data, and nearly half are people of color, reflecting the county’s growing diversity. Five of the seven districts in the plan the county council approved in December were majority white, and another, District 1, had a 49.41% white plurality in its voting-age population.
The council’s redrawn proposal includes a District 4 with a smaller black majority, 61.12% of the district’s voting-age population, and includes a white plurality rather than a majority in District 2, 45.80% of the voting-age population of the district being white.
District 2 also has a higher percentage of black residents, from 29.58% of the district’s voting-age population on the council’s December map to 41.22% on the new map.
Griggsby had said during a marathon evidence hearing on Monday that whether the redesigned District 2 gave black voters an adequate chance to elect a candidate of their choice would be key to his decision.
In December, the Baltimore County NAACP, Common Cause Maryland, the Baltimore County League of Women Voters and several black voters in the county filed a federal lawsuit against the council’s original redistricting plan, accusing the council of violated the Voting Rights Act.
In February, Griggsby ordered the county council to redraw its redistricting plan, saying it needed either “two reasonably compact black majority districts” or another district in which black voters “otherwise have the possibility of electing a representative of their choice”.
Andy Freeman, an attorney with the law firm Brown Goldstein and Levy who is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the plaintiffs believe the new card still violates voting rights law and does not give black voters in the county a sufficient chance of electing. their preferred candidate.
Baltimore County’s only current black-majority council district, District 4, was drawn in 2001 after a push by civil rights activists. Residents of this district have elected a black council member in every election since its inception, while majority white districts have elected white council members. Baltimore County Council Chairman Julian E. Jones Jr. (D) is the council’s only black member.
Matt A. Barreto, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who testified for the plaintiffs, pointed to a history of racially polarized voting in the jurisdiction in his arguments against the corrective map during Monday’s hearing. He said black voters vote consistently in the jurisdiction, with clear choice candidates, especially in western Baltimore County.
Barreto also said he’s seen white voters often vote en bloc in the new District 2 against the candidate of choice for black voters in various statewide elections, including against Democratic candidate Ben Jealous in the 2018 gubernatorial elections.
“All we were asking for was a level playing field, and I’m disappointed the court didn’t level the playing field,” Anthony Fugett, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “County Council continues to pack District 4 with over 64% black voters, leaving majority white voters in District 2. This means white voters in District 2 will continue to have a right to vote. veto the wishes of black voters, despite the west side of Baltimore County being predominantly black. That says a lot to me, and I hope it says a lot to all of my neighbors.
Dana Vickers Shelley, executive director of the ACLU of Maryland and also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, called the decision “devastating news for Baltimore County’s growing black community.”
At Monday’s hearing, Ava E. Lias-Booker, an attorney with the McGuire Woods law firm that represents the county, argued that the new district is a “crossover district” where some white voters vote for the preferred candidate. black voters. She also said that creating two black-majority districts with smaller majorities would not guarantee a black member of the county council and that the “blind pursuit” of a second black-majority district would dilute the power of black voters in the county council. district 4.
Jones said Monday that in its corrective map, the county wanted to draw District 4 with at least a 60% black majority to ensure the election of a black council member. He said the county had not hired an expert to analyze the performance of the county council’s redesigned map and argued that county council members themselves were county “experts”.
“On behalf of my colleagues on the Council, we are very pleased that the Court has recognized the Council’s commitment to diversity and hard work by approving our latest redistricting plan,” Jones said in a statement. “As we’ve seen across the country recently, redistricting is an extremely difficult process, and my colleagues and I have worked together to craft a map acceptable to the Court, while remaining true to the will of our communities.”
In a statement, Council Member David Marks (R) said the map is “more bipartisan, compact and community-friendly” than Maryland’s new congressional and legislative maps. These maps are themselves the subject of ongoing legal challenges.
Jones said the council’s new district map “provides black and other minority candidates with a fairer level playing field and better opportunities to get elected than ever before in the history of this county.”
Freeman said Thursday that the plaintiffs are considering their options.