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Judge strikes down Baltimore County's redistricting map

Lauren Watley, Baltimore County Government
Baltimore County Council. Credit: Lauren Watley, Baltimore County government

A Federal judge ruled Tuesday that Baltimore County must redraw its map for county council districts.

U.S. District Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby granted a preliminary injunction requested by the Baltimore County Branch of the NAACP and others to block the use of the map approved by the County Council in December.

The plaintiffs argued the map violated the Voting Rights Act because it only has one Black majority district, even though the county is nearly 30% African American.

Six of Baltimore County’s seven council members are white.

Judge Griggsby directed the county to create a map with either two Black-majority districts or an additional district in which Black voters can “elect a representative of their choice.” She set a deadline of March 8 for the county to come up with the new map.

“Our legal team is currently reviewing the opinion,” said County Council Chairman Julian Jones. “Once they have done that, we will review what our options are.”

Tony Fugett, the past president of the county NAACP and a plaintiff in the case, is happy with the judge’s decision but said it is a sad day for the county.

“Folks in the Black community spoke up,” Fugett said. “They said that the plan that they crafted was in violation of federal law. We went over and over again and said that it was in violation. And to a person, 100% of the council disagreed with us.”

Andrew Freeman, who represents the plaintiffs in the case, said, “The really strong message that I think Judge Griggsby sent is that this is not your father’s Baltimore County. Baltimore County is now one third Black and almost half people of color and the council representation needs to reflect that.”

In her decision, Judge Griggsby writes that the plaintiffs have shown that two Black-majority districts can be drawn on the county’s west side.

Under the current map the fourth council district, which includes Owings Mills, is more than 70% black. The NAACP argued Black voters are packed in the fourth and that thousands of voters can be moved to an adjoining district to create a second African-American district.

Judge Griggsby wrote that the plaintiffs also were persuasive in arguing that the white majority in the county “votes sufficiently as a bloc to enable it usually to defeat the minority’s preferred candidate.”

“The County has ample time to revise its redistricting plan to comply with the Voting Rights Act,” according to the judge. “This task will be made easier and less time-consuming, because plaintiffs have already provided two viable options for creating two majority-Black districts in the County.”

Maryland’s primary, in which parties will choose their council candidates, is June 28.

In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which is representing the plaintiffs, wrote, “It’s time for Baltimore County leaders to stop wasting taxpayer money defending an indefensible plan that dilutes the voices of Black voters and refuses to embrace the strong diversity of the County.”

The County Council in January hired the law firm of McGuireWoods LLP to represent it in the redistricting case. The contract is for one year and will not exceed $850,000.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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