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Legal battles over Maryland's redistricting maps end

 Gov. Larry Hogan announces he has signed the Congressional redistricting map
Joel McCord/WYPR
Gov. Larry Hogan announces he has signed the Congressional redistricting map

The court battles over Maryland’s redistricting plans appear to be over.

Early Monday afternoon, Gov. Larry Hogan signed the Congressional redistricting map the General Assembly passed last week.

Shortly afterward, retired Judge Alan Wilner upheld the state legislative redistricting map lawmakers adopted earlier this year.

In recommendations he sent to the Court of Appeals, Judge Wilner said Republican complaints that the map was drawn with political considerations were “not supported by any compelling evidence.”

The court will make the final ruling, but it must move quickly. The State Board of Elections needs the boundaries to prepare ballots and find polling places. Potential candidates need to know in which district they are running.

The court has already moved the primary election date from June 28 to July 19 to allow time for the redistricting challenges to be resolved.

Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones said in a joint statement they were “not surprised” by Judge Wilner’s recommendation and urged the court to move quickly “ahead of the upcoming primary election.”

The court has scheduled a hearing April 13 to hear arguments for and against the recommendations.

Fair Maps Maryland, an anti-gerrymandering group, issued a statement from spokesman Doug Mayer, a former aide to Gov. Larry Hogan, criticizing Wilner’s recommendations.

The Congressional map and state legislative map were “produced by the same toxic, closed-door process and it defies common sense that one is substantially different than the other,” he argued.

Mayer said he looks forward to taking the case to the full Court of Appeals.

In the case of the Congressional map, Hogan said in an afternoon news conference he signed it after discussions with Attorney General Brian Frosh. Frosh had agreed to drop his appeal of a judge’s decision throwing out a map lawmakers adopted in December.

Hogan called the new map “a tremendous victory for democracy and for free and fair elections in Maryland.”

He said it isn’t perfect, but it’s a “huge step in the right direction.”

“There are still some issues that I think could be corrected,” he added, “but it's miles away from the really, incredibly gerrymandered map that was thrown out by the court.”

Judge Lynne Battaglia, a retired Court of Appeals judge assigned to the case, called the earlier map “an extreme gerrymander” that violates Maryland’s constitutional requirements to be compact and to respect the boundaries of political subdivisions.

She gave lawmakers until March 30 to draw a new one. They did and returned it to her. But during a hearing last week she said she couldn’t rule for two reasons. Frosh’s appeal of her earlier decision was pending and the governor hadn’t acted on the new map.

Frosh said in a statement he is pleased Hogan has agreed to sign the most recent map and that both sides have agreed to dismiss their cases.

Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones defended the original map and criticized the judge’s ruling, calling it a novel interpretation of the state constitution.

They complained that the delays have created uncertainty about the shape of the Congressional districts and said they are hopeful “the governor’s signature will bring an end to the unnecessary confusion.”

Joel McCord is a trumpet player who learned early in life that that’s no way to make a living.