TESTIMONY TO THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RULES AND EXECUTIVE NOMINATIONS
HB 1176 Maryland Constitution - Congressional Districts - Requirements as to Territory, Form and Boundaries
BY: Susan Cochran, President
DATE: March 10, 2014
The League of Women Voters of Maryland strongly supports HB 1176, which would amend the Maryland Constitution to establish requirements for congressional districts in Maryland.
After a two-year study, members of the Maryland LWV adopted a position that supports action to assure a state redistricting process and standards that promote fair and effective representation in the state legislature and in the House of Representatives with maximum opportunity for public scrutiny.
Of the 43 states that engage in congressional redistricting (seven states have only one district), nineteen have statutory or constitutional requirements regarding the composition of congressional districts. In most cases, those requirements are similar to the requirements in the Maryland Constitution that relate to legislative districts – they must be compact, contiguous and of equal population. Maryland’s Constitution currently requires that legislative districts shall consist of adjoining territory, be compact in form, and of substantially equal population. Additionally, “due regard shall be given to natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions.” These are identical to the requirements proposed for congressional districts in HB 1176.
Recent rounds of congressional redistricting in Maryland have resulted in partisan, gerrymandered districts that have been called “outrageously unconstitutional” by a retired Supreme Court Justice. Unfortunately, even these unquestionably partisan and biased district lines are not unconstitutional under the Maryland Constitution – because there is nothing in the Maryland Constitution about how congressional districts should be drawn.
It is obvious that, without such constraints, Maryland governors will continue to encourage the creation of districts that serve purposes other than that of providing fair representation of Maryland’s citizens by their members of Congress. The League is supporting other legislation that would provide for a comprehensive study of the redistricting process in Maryland, allowing legislators and citizens the opportunity to study best practices from other states and hopefully reform the broken process in our state. But no matter who has the ultimate authority for creating district lines, it is important that standards be in place to mandate that all districts, congressional and legislative, be drawn to promote fair and effective representation.
It is time to rein in the entirely unfettered redistricting process that consistently produces some of the most misshapen congressional districts in the country. We urge members of the Committee to support HB 1176 as a means to achieve this purpose.