A Matter of Legislative Principle


On Wednesday the Maryland General Assembly will convene for its 2022 legislative session, which makes a good moment to share two of my favorite quotes from past Assembly members:

“Mr. Speaker, this issue has degenerated into a matter of principle.” — Del. Xavier Aragona (Prince George’s), in a floor debate circa the late 1960s.

“How does this conflict with my interest?” — Sen. Joe Staszak (Baltimore City), in the 1970s, when asked whether there was a conflict of interest in his vote for a bill that would benefit his business.

I’m likely to testify soon before the current lawmakers on behalf of the legislative maps drawn by the nonpartisan Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission appointed last year by Gov. Larry Hogan, on which I served. When I posted this time last month a special session of the legislature was preparing to take up the separate issue of Congressional maps — that is, those for U.S. House seats. It proceeded to spurn our MCRC map — the districts of which were highly compact, respected county and city boundaries, and earned an “A” on partisan fairness from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project — and instead enacted a grotesque gerrymander of its own devising, which got an “F.”

Now the lawmakers return to consider legislative or statehouse maps, that is to say, the maps for their own districts. These differ from Congressional maps in that they bring the element of self‐​interest to its highest pitch, since which communities are drawn into their district can make or break their chances of re‐​election. Once again they will be asked to consider MCRC’s map, drawn under orders to ignore candidate and party interests, and once again they will be comparing it to a map of their own devising that scores worse on compactness and other measures but pays close attention to incumbent interest.

It will surprise few if they follow in the long‐​trod path of Del. Aragona and Sen. Staszak, and rise above principle to make a decision that does not in any way conflict with their interest.

Walter Olson is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies. His books include The Rule of Lawyers, on mass litigation, The Excuse Factory, on lawsuits in the workplace, and most recently Schools for Misrule, on the state of the law schools. His first book, The Litigation Explosion, was one of the most widely discussed general-audience books on law of its time. It led the Washington Post to dub him “intellectual guru of tort reform.” He blogs at Overlawyered.com.

Used with permission. Cato Institute / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

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