- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Opponents of Maryland's new legislative redistricting plan yesterday left the Court of Appeals encouraged by intensive grilling of the state's attorney by three judges.

"I think the court was much more hostile to the governor's plan than I anticipated," said Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Somerset County Republican. "I didn't hear anything supporting the governor's plan from the judges."

Mr. Stoltzfus was a plaintiff in one of the 10 lawsuits the court heard yesterday challenging the constitutionality of the redistricting plan proposed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

Mr. Stoltzfus said he thought it was clear from questions by three of the seven judges that they had serious doubts about whether the plan complied with the state constitutional requirement to "give due regard" to county and municipal boundaries.

He said he hopes opponents can pick up at least one other judge and persuade a majority of the court to order changes in the plan.

Judges John Eldridge, Alan Wilner and Dale Cathell repeatedly interrupted Assistant Attorney General Maureen Dove, questioning why so many districts crossed county boundaries. Questions asked by judges during hearings, however, do not always indicate the position they will take when a ruling is issued.

Secretary of State John Willis, who played a key role in developing the plan, said he believed the new districts would withstand constitutional scrutiny when the judges had all the facts before them.

"Eighty percent of the population live in the same district as before," Mr. Willis said.

Many districts must cross county boundaries to comply with the federal requirement prohibiting wide variations in population among legislative districts, Mr. Willis said.

The new district lines will be used to elect Maryland's 47 senators and 141 House members this year and in elections in 2006 and 2010.

The state's highest court heard more than four hours of arguments in the opening round of the redistricting battle. The next step will be a hearing in two weeks before Robert Karwacki, a retired judge appointed as a special master to make recommendations to the appeals court on whether the plan is constitutional and what, if any, changes are needed.

The plan was attacked on two fronts yesterday. Opponents said it did not treat minority voters fairly and districts were not compact and contiguous as required by the constitution.

"Today, African Americans and Latinos are severely underrepresented in the General Assembly," said Sam Hirsch, attorney for Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry.

The plan does not do enough to correct the inequity, especially in Prince George's County, Mr. Hirsch said.

But most of the discussion dealt with whether the districts were compact and avoided, to the extent possible, crossing jurisdictional lines.

Judge Eldridge noted that 10 years ago, when the court upheld the current redistricting plan on a split decision, even the majority said it came "perilously close" to violating the requirement that due regard be given to county and municipal boundaries.

Albert Figinski, an attorney for Mr. Stoltzfus and Democratic Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. of Baltimore County, said the state should have taken that as a yellow caution signal when the new districts were drawn.

"They went through that signal at 60 mph, going on 70, going on 80," Mr. Figinski said.

Miss Dove defended the plan, saying that it complied with the No 1. priority that there not be more than a 10 percent deviation in population among the 47 legislative districts.

When Judge Eldridge suggested the plan violated the requirement that county boundaries be taken into consideration, Miss Dove replied, "I'm not sure I agree with you that the constitution requires fewer [boundary] crossings."

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