Judges hear Maryland redistricting lawsuit arguments

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GREENBELT, Md. (AP) - As a three-judge panel heard arguments about whether Maryland's redistricting map dilutes the African-American vote, one of those judges said Tuesday he doesn't believe a case has been made to require a third black-majority congressional district.

Still, the judges noted that some changes in the map might be necessary after further review, and they asked an assistant attorney general representing the state elections board how that might affect the timeline for Maryland's scheduled April 3 primary.

Judge Paul Niemeyer of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals noted that Maryland's black population is about 30 percent. With eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, Niemeyer said the black population would need to be 37.5 percent to require a third black-majority district.

"I just don't know how you make the case," Niemeyer told Jason Torchinsky, an attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Maryland has two black members of the U.S. House: Rep. Elijah Cummings, who represents Baltimore and a portion of Howard County, and Rep. Donna Edwards, whose district would include Prince George's County under the new map. Both representatives are Democrats.

Torchinsky contends the state's 5th District, now represented by Rep. Steny Hoyer, could easily have been drawn to include a majority of African-American voters. But Torchinsky argued that the Democrat-controlled Maryland General Assembly failed to make it a black-majority district in order to protect the high-ranking incumbent from a black challenger in the Democratic primary.

Democrats argue the district likely will develop a black majority over the next decade.

Judge Alexander Williams noted that Hoyer ran against a black opponent in the last election. Hoyer ended up defeating Charles Lollar, with 64 percent of the vote.

Torchinsky, however, noted that Lollar was a Republican, and said the way the map is drawn makes it harder for a black Democrat to challenge Hoyer in a primary. Torchinsky argues that white Democrats took advantage of black voters to maintain incumbent Democrat lawmakers under the new map approved in October by the General Assembly.

But Dan Friedman, an assistant attorney general defending the map, pointed out that Hoyer has run well in the district, which has a large number of black voters. Friedman argued that the map was supported by many black lawmakers.

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