ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - A three-judge federal panel on Friday dismissed a lawsuit against Maryland's congressional redistricting map, ruling that nine plaintiffs did not satisfy the burden of proof in alleging the map discriminated against African-Americans by failing to create a third majority-black congressional district in the state.
Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote that the plaintiffs did not show that residents of their proposed additional majority-black district formed a single community of interest. For example, the plaintiffs argued that the Baltimore/Washington area forms an integrated transportation corridor. However, the judges found that there are real differences between the two areas. While Baltimore's economy has traditionally been based on industry, medical services and its port, Washington's economic strength comes mostly from the federal government, Niemeyer wrote.
The judges noted that while the two cities may share an airport, they have separate cultural institutions and cheer for rival sports teams. The judges also pointed out that most importantly for election issues, both areas are in different media markets and have different newspapers.
"The crucial weakness in the plaintiffs' evidence is that it concerns residents of their proposed congressional district in general, and not minority residents specifically," Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote. "In the absence of this kind of specific evidence, we may not accept bare assertions that the area's African-American residents share the same characteristics, needs and interests."
The judges also said the lawsuit failed to meet the burden of proof that the map is a partisan gerrymander. In addition, the panel rejected arguments that a recent law that counts prisoners in the communities where they are from instead of the prisons where they are confined is unconstitutional.
Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, who submitted the map to the General Assembly in October, said the redistricting plan complied with the letter and the spirit of the law.
"We were confident it would stand up to legal challenges," Guillory wrote in an email.
The Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, based in heavily Democratic Prince George's County, worked to bring together the plaintiffs, who were upset by the way the lines were drawn, with the Maryland Republican Party and the Legacy Foundation of Iowa, a conservative group.
The proposed map has angered Republicans because of major changes to the 6th Congressional District, which is currently held by 10-term Republican Roscoe Bartlett. The change extends a large portion of the western Maryland district into Montgomery County, which has more Democratic voters.
Radamase Cabrera, a spokesman for the Hamer PAC, said that while he was disappointed in the judges' decision, he said the group will continue to press for changes in a redistricting map for the 188 seats in the Maryland General Assembly, which will be submitted by the governor to the legislature in January.
Cabrera said the group is discussing the possibility of appealing the judges' ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the group has to identify the resources to do that.
"If we can find the resources, we will," Cabrera said.
The judges found the plaintiffs offered little evidence to show the black population was especially hurt by the map. Two out of eight congressional districts remain majority-black districts. The ratio of minority/majority seats, 25 percent, is proportional to the black share of the total voting-age population, which is 28 percent.
The panel also found that the state plan creates two congressional districts, the second and the fifth, with significant and growing minority populations.
"Assuming population trends remain constant, both of these districts could conceivably elect minority candidates on the basis of majority/minority coalition voting," the panel found. "Thus, while the state plan may not be maximizing African-American political power in Maryland, it does give the African-American community a strong electoral position, which will continue to strengthen according to current trends."
The judges also noted that two proposed redistricting plans submitted by the state's Legislative Black Caucus contained only two majority-black congressional districts.
Still, the judges noted their decision was not a complete endorsement of the map. That's because the shapes of several districts are "unusually odd," and many obvious communities of interest are divided.
"For instance, Baltimore City, which could be placed in one congressional district given its current population, is instead split between three," the panel found.
The judges also noted districts combine citizens of widely divergent interests.
"That a farmer in Oakland should share a representative with a federal contractor living in Potomac is, we think, a suspect proposition," the judges wrote.
Nevertheless, the judges said, the Supreme Court has made