The battle over Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s redistricting plan may be over as a three-judge panel ruled against those trying to overturn the plan.

Patricia Fletcher, on behalf of the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee (FLH-PAC) sued the state in federal court over what the committee alleged were overly gerrymandered districts that didn’t protect the interests of the state’s minority population, especially in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties.

The PAC’s plight drew national attention and the support of conservative Iowa group, the Legacy Foundation, which funded the suit.

Things looked positive for the plaintiffs in November when U.S. District Court Judge Roger W. Titus moved the suit before a three-judge panel. However, that panel said the plaintiffs failed at pleading their case.

While recognizing there are some real issues with the state’s plan, the judges said it met constitutional scrutiny while the plaintiffs failed to meet the burden of proof to support their claims.

“Moreover, the plaintiffs offer little evidence suggesting that African-Americans are especially disadvantaged by the State Plan. The State Plan makes two out of the eight congressional districts majority African-American districts. This ratio of minority/majority seats – 25 percent — is thus in proportion to African-Americans’ share of the total voting-age population – 28 percent,” wrote U.S. Circuit Court Judge Paul Niemeyer in his opinion. “The State Plan also creates two districts, the Second and the Fifth, with significant and growing minority populations.”

U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams Jr. said that even past the burden of proof, the plaintiffs failed to garner the support of the majority of political leaders in the state – many of whom endorsed O’Malley’s plan.

“From the outset, Plaintiffs struggled in making any sort of intentional discrimination claim since a significant portion of the legislative and community leaders advocating in favor of the State Plan were African-Americans,” Williams said.

“The Black Legislative Caucus proposed two redistricting plans, neither of which called for the three majority African-American districts proposed by Plaintiffs,” he continued. “Eight out of nine African-American senators and 31 of 34 African-American delegates voted for the State Plan.”

Titus agreed with Niemeyer, but took to task the state law that allows gerrymandering to take place.

“While a claim of political gerrymandering, untethered to a claim of racial discrimination, was not pursued by the Plaintiffs, it is clear that the plan adopted by the General Assembly of Maryland is, by any reasonable standard, a blatant political gerrymander,” Titus said.

Specifically, Titus challenged the restructuring of District Six and District Three.

District Six would add several thousand new voters from Montgomery County to rural Garrett County while District Three would comprise voters from Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Montgomery County, Anne Arundel County and a segment of Annapolis that’s not even connected to the rest of the district.

“The real question is whether those considerations ?though generally permissible, were applied in an invidious manner or in a way unrelated to any legitimate legislative objective? so as to interfere with the right of fair and effective representation,” Titus said.

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO