Maryland’s new Sixth and Eighth Congressional Districts begin in the state’s rugged northwest but then dive southeastward into suburban Montgomery County. The city of Baltimore is split between three new districts: the Second, Third, and Seventh. The new Fourth District joins heavily African-American Prince George’s County with heavily white Anne Arundel County.
Is there anything wrong with these sorts of districts? Democratically, the answer is yes. Representatives cannot serve their constituents’ interests effectively when districts fuse or fragment distinct communities. Voters also become confused and apathetic when they are placed in districts that do not correspond to underlying geographic realities.
Legally, however, the answer is no — at least for now. In a 2004 case, the Supreme Court rebuffed every standard that was offered to it for identifying unlawful political gerrymanders. As a result, the three-judge federal court that recently upheld Maryland’s new congressional plan had no trouble denying the challengers’ gerrymandering claim. “Absent a clear standard to apply,” the court stated, “we must reject the plaintiffs’ arguments on this count.”