Maryland Officials Join Opposition to Seismic Tests in the Ocean

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Maryland officials have joined a host of congressmen in opposing the Trump administration’s plan to start underwater seismic testing along the Atlantic coast, operations that could lead to increased domestic production of oil and gas, but also could be harmful to marine animals.

The offshore seismic testing would be part of oil and gas exploration from Florida up the East Coast to Delaware, including the coast of Maryland.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and eight other attorneys general joined as parties to a lawsuit aimed at stopping the testing, which they said would subject marine creatures such as whales, porpoises and dolphins to extremely loud sounds.

“While the (Trump) administration continues to place the interests of the fossil fuel industry ahead of our precious natural resources, attorneys general up and down the Atlantic coast will continue to fight these and other efforts to open the waters off our shores to drilling for oil and gas,” Frosh said in a statement. “Our filing seeks to prevent any seismic testing going forward while our lawsuit is pending.”

Frosh’s coalition includes attorneys general from Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Governor Larry Hogan, who called for President Donald Trump to remove Maryland from the states involved in seismic testing, authorized the lawsuit against the federal government.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, also supports the suit against the administration.

“Seismic testing that blasts the ocean floor with high powered air guns threatens marine life, including commercial fisheries that are vital to the economy of Maryland’s coastal communities,” Van Hollen said in a statement to the Capital News Service. “That’s why I have repeatedly opposed proposals to allow this practice – and subsequent oil and gas drilling – off the Atlantic.”

The Trump administration’s plan was initially challenged by National Resources Defense Council, which said the testing violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Seismic testing includes underwater blasts that would occur approximately every 10 seconds for weeks or months at a time, the NRDC said. Right whales, a species that has seen its population dwindle to roughly 400 in the Atlantic, could be fatally harmed, according to the organization.

“Should (seismic testing) go forward, this blasting will irreparably harm marine species, from tiny zooplankton—the foundation of ocean life—to the great whales,” the NRDC said. “The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has authorized one company to harm more than 50,000 dolphins and another company to harm 20,000 more.”

The NFMS, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, gave clearance to these companies under the condition that there be guidelines to protect nearby marine life. Stipulations require acoustic monitoring in the area where seismic testing is being conducted as well as a crew of observers onboard to alert operators if a protected species comes within a certain distance.

“NOAA Fisheries is clear in the documentation related to (authorizations) that we do not expect mortality to occur as a result of these surveys,” said organization spokeswoman Katherine Brogan.

The agency also requires testing to be shut down when “certain sensitive species or groups are observed” in the area.

Michael Jasny, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project for the NRDC, told Capital News Service that the lawsuit is currently awaiting a decision from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina.

While the administration and environmentalist groups wait for a decision on the lawsuit, seismic testing has yet to begin. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) hasn’t issued the necessary permits, but those permits could come out “any day,” according to Jasny.

If the BOEM issues permits to these companies, they would be required to give 30 days notice before beginning seismic testing. If the 30-day grace period passes and no decision is reached on the lawsuits, the companies would then have the green light to begin testing.

Five companies – ION Geophysical, Spectrum, TGS, WesternGeco, and CGG – have received clearance from the Trump administration and now await permits from the BOEM, Jasny said.

Maryland will Make Smoking and Vaping Age 21

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What do cigarettes, Juul pods, rolling papers and nicotine-free vape juice all have in common? Starting Oct. 1 they will all be considered “tobacco products” in Maryland, and you will have to be at least 21 to buy them.

House bill 1169 and its corresponding Senate bill 895 will raise the smoking age in Maryland to 21 as well as reclassify all vape products and accessories as tobacco products regardless of their nicotine concentration.

Vendors will still be able to sell tobacco products to active duty service members who are at least 18 with military IDs.

Vapes have become a serious issue in schools, where their popularity has shot up in recent years. Usage of vapes by high school students nearly doubled last year, increasing from 11 percent in 2017 to almost 21 percent in 2018, according to the United States Surgeon General.

While vapes are popular among adults trying to quit smoking, they still present the risk of nicotine addiction. Though studies of their long-term effects are lacking, vapes have been deemed dangerous for children by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Photo by Charlie Youngmann / Capital News Service

Under this bill, selling tobacco products without a license could result in fines up to $1,000 and/or 30 days imprisonment. Licensed retailers who sell to people younger than 21 could face a $300 fine for their first offense, $1,000 for the second offense within two years of the first and $3,000 for a third offense within two years of the second.

Devin Farmer is a store supervisor at VAPE180 in Annapolis, Maryland. Farmer said he can understand why lawmakers would want to regulate the growing industry with teen vaping on the rise.

Though plenty of people between 18 and 21 frequent Farmer’s store, he said they have enough regulars over the age of 21 that the store should stay in business.

“While (this legislation) will cut back on us a little bit, it shouldn’t do too much damage to our actual business,” Farmer said.

The bill also authorizes the Maryland Department of Health to use people younger than 21 to conduct unannounced inspections of tobacco product retailers. Farmer said he’s experienced similar sting operations working at gas stations, but never at his vape shop.

Farmer said this practice could potentially work, “Maybe kind of as a scare tactic, maybe a once here and there kind of thing. I wouldn’t make it a normal, everyday kind of occurrence,” he said.

VAPE180 supervisor Devin Farmer. Photo by Charlie Youngmann / Capital News Service.

Annapolis resident and former vape store worker Ben Sloskey said he thinks this bill would not only be detrimental to the vapor industry, but also relatively ineffective at preventing teen vaping.

When he worked as a vape retailer, Sloskey said, most of his customers were primarily 18-22 and new to nicotine, or former smokers well into their 30’s. Recalling how easy it was for him to find cigarettes as a teenager, Sloskey said high school students will either go out-of-state or simply pay adults to purchase vape products for them.

In 11 other states including Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia, the age to purchase tobacco has been raised to 21, according to tobaccofreekids.org. Delaware and Pennsylvania are among other states considering this change.

“How does the 18-year-old senior get alcohol for his party? He talks to a family relative or he talks to his friend,” Sloskey said. “There are people in high school who have an older group of friends because of something that they do in their free time,” he said.

Because this bill would also restrict people younger than 21 from entering a vape shop, Sloskey said younger children may begin to purchase fake IDs, not to get into bars, but to smoke and vape, he said.

Britani Ngo just turned 20 and has been vaping for about two years since she made the switch from cigarettes. As the store supervisor of VAPE180’s Linthicum, Maryland, branch, Ngo said she’s concerned about what this bill may do to her ability to work.

“Hopefully I can stay, but if it comes down to it, I don’t have much of a choice other than to really leave,” Ngo said. “Honestly, I’m just really scared. I hope for the best, I really hope I don’t have to lose my job because this job means everything to me,” she said.

Ngo said she also doubts that this bill will prevent people who are not yet 21 from getting access to vape products.

“People are underestimating just how easy it is to kinda get your hands on things nowadays. To be realistic, if there’s a will there’s a way,” Ngo said.

Ngo and Sloskey both stressed that vaping is often overlooked as a hobby and lifestyle. Sloskey noted the effort vape enthusiasts put into selecting and building their vapes to produce different results while Ngo explained that her store acts as more of a lounge than a place of intoxication.

“Wanting to be able to help people and then having somebody say I can’t help people under a certain age, that’s just kind of a blow in the chest to me,” Ngo said. “I do know a lot of people underage that smoke and eventually it’s just going to get worse and worse,” she said.

Julia Cen Chen-Sankey is a postdoctoral fellow with the National Institutes of Health. While researching her doctoral dissertation at the University of Maryland, Chen-Sankey said that she found sweet vape flavors can act as a gateway into other tobacco products for young users.

High school students make up the largest group of vape users in the United States, with sweet flavors like fruits and desserts being the most popular with young users, Chen-Sankey explained.

While this bill will likely reduce the number of vaping high school students, Chen-Sankey said, restrictions on sweet flavors and marketing could further aid in preventing underage usage.

Chen-Sankey explained that even in products labeled nicotine-free, some traces of the chemical may still be present, or the packaging could be mislabeled. She said that the broad tobacco product classifications put in place by this bill would ensure that consumers are aware of the health risks of vaping, regardless of what they are purchasing.

A pair of failed bills this session—House bill 1185 and Senate bill 708—would have restricted vape packaging to exclude cartoons, teen mascots and other imagery deemed appealing to children.

“I’d like to see (the vapor industry) keep growing as it has. There’s honestly not a place in Maryland you can go without seeing a vape shop nowadays. They’re everywhere,” Farmer said.

Hogan Signs Bills on Hate Crimes, Cyberbullying

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Gov. Larry Hogan, R, pored over almost 200 bills Thursday, signing into law measures concerning cyberbullying, hate crimes and a state-recognized Freedom of the Press Day.

At this stage, Hogan has the choice of signing a bill into law, allowing it to become a law without signing, or vetoing the bill — with the exception of legislation he’s already vetoed that has been overridden.

Thursday marked one of four bill signings Hogan has scheduled for April and May. Subsequent signings are scheduled to take place April 30, May 13 and May 23.

While these signings generally begin the day after the legislative session ends, Hogan delayed the ceremony out of respect for House Speaker Michael Busch, who died April 7, one day before the end of the session.

Hogan later on Thursday called a special session of the legislature for May 1, to allow the House of Delegates to elect a new speaker.

Hogan signed House bill 181 and Senate bill 103, named “Grace’s Law 2.0”, which will provide an updated version of the protections against cyberbullying put in place by the first “Grace’s law,” which was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2013.

The law and its predecessor are named after Grace McComas, who killed herself on Easter Sunday 2012 after being cyberbullied, according to a Capital News Service report.

Hogan signed several bills that will increase penalties for threatening hate crimes or acts of mass violence, as well as a bill that will require the Maryland State Police to collect and record data on hate crimes.

Hogan also signed House bill 871 and Senate bill 690, which will reclassify human trafficking as a violent crime. House bill 734 and Senate bill 689 will increase penalties for labor trafficking as well.

A joint resolution Hogan signed will make June 28 Freedom of the Press Day in Maryland. The date chosen marks the anniversary of the shooting at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis that resulted in the deaths of Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters.

Because the Capital Gazette newspapers cover Maryland politics and public policy, Rick Hutzell, editor of Capital Gazette Communications, said his paper couldn’t endorse an honor awarded by the state.

“The most important honor we get is from our readers who subscribe to us,” Hutzell said, echoing the paper’s editorial that addressed the measure. “Every day is press freedom day for us,” he said.

Hogan signed House bill 1428 and Senate bill 619, which will enact a new conflict of interest policy for the University of Maryland Medical System’s board of directors in order to increase transparency.

Soon after the bill’s introduction, an investigation by the Baltimore Sun uncovered no-bid contracts between the University of Maryland Medical System and its board members. Among these contracts was a deal to sell Democratic Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” children’s book to the University of Maryland Medical System, according to a Capital News Service Report.

Hogan also signed Senate bill 521, which will require the Maryland Department of Health to provide more health service accessibility to veterans in order to prevent veteran suicide.

By Charlie Youngmann

Mourners gather in Annapolis to honor Michael Busch

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Members of the Maryland General Assembly on Monday solemnly lined up outside the State House, as bagpipes played and state troopers carried in the casket of the late House Speaker Michael Busch, followed by his family.

Politicians, dignitaries and the general public gathered in the Maryland State House to pay their respects to the longtime speaker of the House.

Busch, D-Anne Arundel, died April 7, just one day before the last day of the legislative session — known as Sine Die — while being treated for pneumonia. He was 72.

A Maryland State Police procession escorted Busch’s casket — draped in a Maryland flag — and his family through a windy downtown Annapolis before stopping in the rotunda of the State House to lie in repose.

The members of the General Assembly filed in after the procession, while the public made their way through the opposite entrance of the building. Others filled the sidewalks and the grassy area outside the State House.

Several dignitaries, including Gov. Larry Hogan, R, gave remarks before the public visitation.

“Few have served Maryland with as much passion and dedication as Mike Busch did,” Hogan said early Monday afternoon. “And few will leave this earth as well-loved and esteemed as he was.”

Former United States Sen. Barbara Mikulski referred to Busch as “coach,” and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, lauded his commitment to Maryland over the years.

Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, teared up while speaking, calling Busch a “leader” and “friend.”

After the remarks, members of the General Assembly walked past Busch’s casket, some closing their eyes to say a prayer, and briefly speaking with Busch’s family before exiting the State House.

Another public visitation is scheduled for Tuesday before a procession escorting the casket for the funeral service. Following the service, Hogan is expected to present Busch’s family — his wife, Cindy, and daughters Erin and Megan — with the Maryland state flag from Busch’s casket.

According to a spokeswoman for Hogan, the governor has not yet received a request to call a special session to vote for a new House speaker.

By Daniel Oyefusi

 

Halting Human Trafficking Requires Public To “See The Unseen”

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Bringing a halt to human trafficking needs help from the public, which must learn to “see the unseen,” an anti-trafficking advocate recently told church members here.

Civilian training is the first step, said Rebecca McDonald, founder and president of Women at Risk, International (WAR), a Michigan-based non-profit organization that works to provide protection to those at risk, for the event.

“Until you take this personally, nothing is going to change,” McDonald told members of the First Baptist Church in Waldorf.

The church partnered with WAR for a seven-hour Civilian First Responder program for 250 attending members, teaching them about what human trafficking is, the horrors of victims’ experience, how they can detect signs of the crime in their community and resources they can contact to get help.

Human trafficking, often considered a forgotten crime, is modern day slavery. An umbrella term, human trafficking encompasses a number of crimes like sex trafficking, forced labor and debt bondage.

The International Labour Organization estimates that 40.3 million people are trafficked globally, according to Polaris, an organization dedicated to eradicating modern slavery.

In 2014, 396 survivors of human trafficking were identified and provided assistance in Maryland according to the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force. As most victims are not identified or reported to an agency, this number is only a fraction of the actual number of people being trafficked in the state.

WAR provided pamphlets and documents that had further information about human trafficking and ways to see its signs. In a booklet specifically aimed at the general public, the organization lists 15 demographic characteristics that make an area more prone to human trafficking.

Tourism, for example, invites people to come in and out of an area for short periods of time. These tourists, primarily men, are more likely to partake in human trafficking activities, like sex trafficking, and leave the area before there are any repercussions. Sex tourism “treats sex as just another visitor attraction,” according the WAR’s website.

Because of Maryland’s close proximity to cities like Washington and Baltimore, the state is vulnerable to sex tourism.

Six men, including two from Anne Arundel County, were arrested by county police in a prostitution sting operation at the Extended Stay America hotel in Linthicum, only a 10-minute drive from the Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, according to an article by the Annapolis Capital.

Maryland has about 12 or 13 of these 15 demographic characteristics, according to McDonald.

McDonald said the real problem of human trafficking is that it is “good business.” Traffickers can sell a human over and over again and still have deniability, according to McDonald.

The church event also had separate break-out sessions for parents and educators, hospitality workers, teens and young adults and homeland security and local law enforcement to learn how to detect human trafficking in these specific groups.

Speakers for these sessions included representatives of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s office, the Charles County Sheriff’s Office and an advocate for Human Security Investigations.

Two human trafficking victims, Jill Short and Wendy Schoonmaker, spoke about their experiences during the lunch break. Short, a mother of 10 and grandmother of six, uses beauty pageants to talk about her personal story and won the position of 2019 Mrs. Downtown DC America, the official Washington preliminary pageants to Miss for America and Mrs. America.

Schoonmaker said people are sometimes taught to mistrust themselves and ignore or shutdown their own feelings, which can be passed on to children, creating a major source of vulnerability.

“If you don’t acknowledge someone else’s feelings, someone else will,” she said. “And often times it’s someone who will exploit them.”

Schoonmaker said she was able to walk away from the first 16 years of her life by having people, either mentors or volunteers, who spoke about positive things in her life.

Both survivors urged attendees to be vigilant about signs of trafficking.

Church member Charlotte Vass organized the training session with help from other members. Having previously worked with domestic violence victims and then with WAR, Vass said the sinfulness of human trafficking “struck her” and made her want to make a difference.

A group of women at the church have been praying about this problem for years and started planning the event about eight months ago, according to Vass.

“It just became apparent that people are really uninformed about the human trafficking situation in general,” Vass said. “Most people seem to think it’s over there, they don’t realize it’s in your own backyard.”

By Sanchali Singh

Maryland may Expand Electric Vehicle Tax Credits

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Maryland state legislation could increase the tax credit received for electric cars to $3,000 per vehicle.
 
Marylander’s currently receive $100 times the number of kilowatt-hours of the battery capacity of their electric vehicle with a maximum of $3,000. With this bill, each new electric vehicle purchased will count for $3,000 regardless of battery size.
 
While plug-in electric and fuel cell vehicles are both currently covered, this tax credit would only apply to fully electric vehicles and would not cover hybrid cars, according to the bill’s lead sponsor, Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery.
 
House bill 1246, named the Clean Cars Act of 2019, would also increase the maximum price of qualified electric vehicles from $60,000 to $63,000 to adjust for inflation from when the initial limit was set by the Clean Cars Act of 2017, according to Fraser-Hidalgo.
Due to of a shortage of funding for electric vehicle tax credits in 2017, this legislation is intended to provide enough money to incentivize more Marylanders to purchase zero-emission vehicles, Fraser-Hidalgo said.
 
This bill would allow the Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration to raise the total amount of tax credits to be awarded in total for fiscal year 2020 to $6 million, an increase from the $3 million set aside annually for tax credits by the Clean Cars Act of 2017.
 
The U.S. also offers a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 for owning an electric vehicle, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
 
“That $3,000 tax credit, coupled with the federal $7,500 tax credit…is extremely important to getting the new vehicles in a budget range in which Marylanders can afford,” Fraser-Hidalgo said. “The electric cars, they’re just better in pretty much every way,” he said.
 
A separate Clean Cars Act of 2019–Senate bill 168–was proposed by Gov. Larry Hogan, R, with the primary difference being that Fraser-Hidalgo’s bill would also provide a $1,500 tax credit to people purchasing used electric vehicles, Fraser-Hidalgo said. Senate bill 168 was heard by a Maryland Senate committee Feb. 12.
 
While Fraser-Hidalgo’s bill would rename the Maryland Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Council to the Maryland Zero Emission Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Council, Hogan’s bill would change the name to the Maryland Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Council. Both measures would focus the organization on promoting fuel cell vehicles. 
 
In 2007, Maryland became one of eight states that adopted California’s Zero Emission Vehicles program, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. Adhering to the standards of the program—later enforced through Maryland legislation in 2011—Maryland must have 60,000 registered zero emission vehicles by 2020 and 300,000 registered by 2025.
 
The number of electric vehicles registered in Maryland doubled between 2017 and 2018. As of February, there are over 18,000 electric vehicles registered in Maryland, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration.
 
Members of the petroleum industry argued that the tax credits outlined in the Clean Cars Acts disproportionately benefit the wealthy and educated. Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Distributors Association Inc. Executive Vice President Ellen Valentino said this bill and its 2017 predecessor are “talking to a very narrow segment” of the population.
 
“This has not been a successful program,” Valentino said. “Six million dollars is a lot of money for people shopping for a $63,000 new vehicle,” she told legislators on Tuesday. 
 
House bill 1246 passed through the Maryland House of Delegates March 18 and was heard by a Maryland Senate committee on Tuesday. 
By Charlie Youngmann

Md. House overrides Hogan Veto: Schools Can Now Start Before Labor Day

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Maryland school districts will now have the ability to again start their school year before Labor Day, overturning a previous executive order by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

One day after the Maryland Senate voted to override Hogan’s veto of a bill that would give power to local school boards to determine their respective calendars, the House of Delegates voted Friday to override the measure as well.

The House voted 93-43 to join the Senate in overriding Hogan’s veto.

Delegate Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s, who served on a year-long task force to study a post-Labor Day start for Maryland public schools, said Hogan’s veto “short circuited” the work of the task force.

Healey said more flexibility was required for schools that needed to account for additional religious holidays and athletics.

Delegate Haven Shoemaker, R-Carroll, argued against overriding the veto, pointing to numerous businesses that would benefit from the additional week of summer vacation.

On Thursday, the Senate voted 32-15 along party lines to override Hogan’s veto.

Hogan on Wednesday vetoed Senate bill 128, saying that the legislation “unravels years of bipartisan work and study” and citing polls revealing that the bill runs counter to the wishes of most Marylanders.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, overturns Hogan’s 2016 executive order mandating schools start after Labor Day.

“The executive order does not respect the diversity of our state,” said Delegate Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery.

This was the last of three veto overrides to occur this week. Both chambers also voted Thursday to override Hogan’s veto of a bill to strip alcohol and tobacco regulation from the state comptroller, and a bill to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15.

By Daniel Oyefusi

CNS reporter Natalie Jones contributed to this story

Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Maryland, North Carolina Redistrict Challenges

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For the second time in as many years, the Supreme Court heard arguments on partisan redistricting cases from Maryland and North Carolina Tuesday, but it remains unclear whether a constitutional standard for regulating the practice will be issued.

North Carolina’s entire congressional map is being contested, which is currently made up of 10 Republicans and three Democrats despite the state being almost evenly split politically.

At issue in Maryland is the state’s 6th Congressional District. Democratic lawmakers are accused of moving Republican voters out of the district that covers most of the state’s rural Northwest and putting in large numbers of Democratic voters from the Washington suburbs in order to turn the district blue.

The justices seemed to be split evenly down philosophical lines, with the more liberal wing of the court encouraging the deliberation of a manageable standard to apply to future questions of gerrymandering, while the conservative wing seeming wary of intervening in a process left largely to the states.

The question, said Chief Justice John Roberts, is whether “any partisanship that has a consequence is impermissible.”

The conservative justices pointed out dozens of times that the Constitution does not require proportional representation — the idea that the percentage of seats awarded to any party should correspond with the percentage of votes it won in the states.

Michael A. Kimberly, attorney for the voters challenging Maryland’s 6th District, said that proportional consideration should be considered when debating a possible constitutional standard. He argued that “it is a legitimate state interest to pursue proportional representation in redistricting.”

Justice Samuel Alito wondered whether “the First Amendment might require or even tolerate the regulation of speech, and in this instance, the speech is the votes, for the purpose of providing a proportional representation of viewpoints.”

The justices repeatedly asked counsel for the appellees for a test that would appropriately determine which cases of gerrymandering were so extremely partisan that they crossed a constitutional line.

The conservative justices, however, did not seem to find a suitable measure that could determine when an innately political process became too political.

“Is another way…of putting the test: I know it when I see it?” Justice Neil Gorsuch asked derisively.

The court’s liberal justices pushed back, saying the problem of extreme partisan gerrymandering had gotten out of control and seemed willing to conceive of some sort of regulatory measure.

Justice Elena Kagan characterized “the court leaving this all to professional politicians who have an interest in redistricting according to their own partisan interests” as “dramatically wrong.”

Another concern expressed by the conservative justices was the possibility that the judicial branch would essentially become the arbiter of elections should the court get involved in setting a standard for redistricting.

The gerrymandering of Maryland’s 6th District, which was at issue in Lamone v. Benisek, was unique in that the map in question had been put to a referendum and was approved by 64 percent of voters.

Gorsuch still seemed hesitant to judicially intervene.

“So, in effect, you are asking the court, no matter how good the referendum might be, no matter how much the people themselves might approve these lines, this court has to tell them it — it’s unconstitutional?” Gorsuch asked counsel for the appellees.

Justice Stephen Breyer proposed a standard that would only catch the “extreme outliers,” so that not every single election would be judicially contested.

“What I’m trying to do is to figure out if there’s a way to catch real outliers,” he said, so that it would not “lead to every election contested and throw it all to the judges instead of the people.“

Breyer said he considers a scenario where a party wins a majority of the statewide vote but the minority party wins two-thirds of the state’s congressional seats to be “pretty extreme.”

Breyer thus proposed a mathematical standard whereby congressional election results would be re-examined if one party won a majority of the statewide vote but one-third or less of the congressional seats.

Steven M. Sullivan, the solicitor general of Maryland and representative of the appellant, seemed doubtful that a formula that would only catch extreme outliers for review is unrealistic.

“If you’re concerned about limiting the Court’s intervention to the extreme circumstance,” he said, “you would not be limiting it to extreme. You would be saying ‘get ready, Arkansas, Kansas, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee.’”

The court is expected to issue a decision on whether to keep the drawing of congressional district maps in the hands of the states by July.

By Carolina Velloso

Maryland Voters Tally to Support fairer Redistricting Process

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Maryland voters, political groups and state elected officials all rallied together outside the Supreme Court Tuesday morning to support a case being heard on partisan gerrymandering in the state’s congressional districts.

Held on the steps of the Supreme Court, the Fair Maps Rally, sponsored by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, drew hundreds of supporters to raise public awareness of transparent redistricting and to protest against unfair congressional districts in states across the country.

While supporters chanted and spoke outside for several hours, oral arguments for two Supreme Court cases on gerrymandering were heard inside.

The Maryland case, Benisek v. Lamone, focused on whether the redistricting of the state’s 6th Congressional District was constitutional after the district map was redrawn in 2011 following the release of 2010 political census data, flipping it from being a solid Republican district to majority Democratic in the 2012 election.

Maryland now has seven Democratic representatives and one Republican in the House.

The case from North Carolina, Rucho v. Common Cause, dealt with the redrawing of the entire state’s congressional map after it was found to be racially gerrymandered in 2016.

Although a new map drawing was ordered, the mapmaker created a 10-3 Republican majority in the House.

While both cases involve districts being drawn to favor one party over another, some who oppose gerrymandering say that it’s not a partisan issue.

“This is not a fight between right and left; this is a fight between right and wrong,” said Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who was elected in a heavily Democratic state.

Agreeing with Hogan was former Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who jointly filed an amicus brief with him to the Supreme Court supporting O. John Benisek, the plaintiff of the case who argued against the constitutionality of gerrymandering.

“The villain is not the party; it’s the politician,” Schwarzenegger said. “We must terminate gerrymandering.”

Free and fair elections are the basis of democracy, Hogan continued, and both parties are guilty of unfairly drawing districts to ensure more representation.

“Representatives shouldn’t be picking their citizens, citizens should be picking their representatives,” Hogan added.

Lone Republican Rep. Andrew Harris of Maryland’s 1st District represents the whole Eastern Shore, as well as parts of Baltimore, Harford and Carroll counties.

Constituents at the farthest points of the 1st District are geographically more than four hours’ drive from the other end of the district, but are still represented only by Harris.

“I benefited from gerrymandering, but it’s about time that it ends,” Harris said. “It disenfranchises people.”

Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, argued that gerrymandering takes power from the people and gives it to politicians.

“That is not democracy,” Flynn said. “Voting is sacred … and no liberty is more important than our right to vote.”

Without fairness in the electoral system, democracy doesn’t work, Montgomery County resident Steve Daubresse, protesting with the League of Women Voters, told Capital News Service.

The problem is a power issue that won’t fix itself, said Virginia Kase, CEO of the League of Women Voters, adding that justice can be found in the form of fair district maps.

To create a more fair redistricting process, Hogan said that he’s been pushing for the establishment of a nonpartisan redistricting commission to be signed into law this session of the Maryland General Assembly, but the legislature has not brought it to a vote yet.

Without action from the state legislature, Maryland can only rely on the Supreme Court’s decision to bring gerrymandering to an end, Hogan said.

By Natalie Jones

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