After a decade of having perhaps the nation’s most egregious congressional gerrymander, Maryland faces a change for the 2020s. With the legislature’s new gerrymander struck down by the courts, it’s clear that this decade will feature a more compact map. Legislative Democrats have their preference, and Republican Governor Larry Hogan has his, but one thing is for certain: the coming days will see a major fight over the future of the Old Line State’s congressional delegation.
The Previous Map
The original congressional map passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature would have shifted the state from 7-1 to 8-0, with CD01 being highly competitive but still marginally Democratic. This proposal was somewhat tamer than some observers had expected, as it’s quite possible to draw a very safe 8-0 map, but nonetheless it was a fairly shameless gerrymander. The map was passed by a party-line vote in the legislature, who then overrode the veto of Republican Governor Larry Hogan.
Litigation was filed almost immediately, and on March 25th, state judge Lynne Battaglia struck it down as an unconstitutional gerrymander. In addition to citing its uncompact shape and violation of political subdivisions, she also declared it was a partisan gerrymander that violated the equal protection, free speech, and free election clauses of the state Constitution – similar logic to what the North Carolina Supreme Court used in striking down their state’s gerrymander. She gave the state a deadline of March 30 to redraw the maps, with a hearing to follow on April 1st. The legislature has since created a proposal, which they plan to vote on before the deadline.
The Proposed Map
Several changes are apparent in this new proposal, both from the 2010s map and the struck-down 2020s map. The most striking is perhaps incumbency – or lack thereof. Almost every incumbent would actually be double-bunked under this map. While this wouldn’t matter much in the short term, it would likely require some incumbents to relocate.
From a district-by-district perspective, this would be a fairly stable 7-1 map. The biggest changes are:
- The return of a unified eastern shore-based CD01. Trump carried it by over 14 percentage points in 2020. Andy Harris, a firebrand conservative known for controversial remarks, would be at no risk of losing this district.
- A heavily suburban CD02 that would have voted for Biden by nearly 21 percentage points, but for Hillary Clinton by only 11 percentage points.
- House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s CD05 increasing to 43% black VAP, increasing both the odds of a primary challenge and of a black Democrat replacing him.
- A more compact, but still gerrymandered, CD06 that would have voted for Biden by nearly 10 percentage points and Clinton by one percentage point. For comparison, Biden won the current CD06 by 23 percentage points and Clinton won it by 15.
While this is a 7-1 map, in a wave year a district like CD06 could well be competitive. In fact, in the much more Democratic 2010s iteration of the seat, it nearly flipped to Republican Dan Bongino in 2014’s red wave, with incumbent Democrat John Delaney only holding on by around 2,200 votes. On the other hand, while the current incumbent David Trone did run behind Biden slightly in 2020, he ranks among the wealthiest members of Congress and would certainly have the money to bankroll a firm defense of the seat.
Can This Map Last?
Given the court’s opinion, which strongly implied a 6-2 split as being acceptable, it’s unclear if this map will be approved or not. Republicans, led by Hogan, will almost certainly fight it. If the map were to be struck down again, the most obvious way to address a would be to draw the Republican stronghold of Carroll County into CD06; however, even if a decreased Montgomery County portion remains, the seat would still have voted for Trump by a reasonably comfortable margin of at least five percentage points. Trone’s war sink would be an asset in such a district, but likely not enough to hold it in a wave election.
Additionally, it’s unclear how much a redraw might affect the DC suburbs. The map created by Hogan’s powerless Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, whose proposal was ignored by the legislature, would have given Hoyer’s CD05 far more of majority-black Prince George’s County and ditched all portions in Anne Arundel. This would mean that black voters would outnumber white ones in the district, placing Hoyer at risk for a primary challenge.
While any map passed by the legislature would likely shore up Hoyer, a court-drawn map would be less inclined to factor in incumbency. A district solely limited to Prince George’s, St. Mary’s, and Charles, for example, would be 64% black and double-bunk Hoyer with Anthony Brown, a black Democrat.
For this reason, it might be advantageous for the legislature to draw a 6-2 map themselves if they feel a court-drawn map is a possibility. While one incumbent – likely Trone – would be lost regardless, the powerful Hoyer would be far safer against a primary challenger.