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Judge approves Baltimore County's council district map

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

The Baltimore County Council ran a victory lap Thursday night, as it passed a redrawn map of its council districts that had been approved by a federal judge earlier that afternoon.

Hours later, the county council met in an emergency session to approve it.

The Baltimore County Branch of the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and others, which sued the county over the council map, have not said whether they will appeal U.S. District Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby’s decision.

Before passing the map unanimously, Democratic Councilman Tom Quirk said he felt vindicated, adding those who brought the suit wanted to have the power of the county council.

“They wanted to draw the maps and they were not going to be happy with any other maps unless it was theirs, period,” Quirk said.

The suit did force the council to redraw its original map.

The plaintiffs argued that map violated the Voting Rights Act because the county is about 30% African American but the map had only one Black majority district for the seven-member council. Judge Griggsby agreed and struck it down.

The map the judge approved in a closed hearing keeps the Black majority district, but also has two minority-majority districts, meaning all minorities combined make up a majority of the voters in those two districts.

“We made the compromises that were necessary,” Democratic Councilman Julian Jones said.

The redistricting debate has been over Black voters on the western side of the county.

The county map approved by the judge shifted enough Black voters from the fourth district, which is heavily African American, into the adjacent second district to make it minority-majority. White voters will make up about 46% of the voting age population in the second.

Attorneys for the NAACP and the ACLU put on evidence they said showed white Baltimore County voters tend not to vote for Black candidates which is why a second African-American majority district is needed.

In a statement following the judge’s decision the attorneys for the plaintiffs said, “We are considering our next steps. Our commitment to the rights of Baltimore County voters remains firm.”

Chairman Jones said Judge Griggsby wanted the council to skip its usual process for voting on legislation and approve the map right away.

“I explained all of the processes that I needed to do unless she gives us an order otherwise. And today (Thursday) she has given us that order,” Jones said.

“With this vote, I am very hopeful we can put this issue to bed and move on and continue to work hard for the citizens of Baltimore County.”

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