Legislators says rejection of Pa. redistricting imperils April primary

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a Delaware County Republican, told reporters in the Capitol that the primary date "is in jeopardy."
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a Delaware County Republican, told reporters in the Capitol that the primary date "is in jeopardy." (CAROLYN KASTER / Associated Press, file)
Posted: February 04, 2012

A top Harrisburg Republican said Friday that the legislature might consider moving back the April 24 primary election to make time for a commission to create new maps for all 203 state House seats and 50 Senate seats.

The primary date "is in jeopardy," Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a Delaware County Republican, told reporters in the Capitol.

"We're in uncharted territory as far as a timetable moving forward," Pileggi said.

Pileggi's comments came as he and others filed a suit in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia essentially asking a federal judge to block the likely impact of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision last week.

The state court, by a vote of 4-3, invalidated the state's plan for reapportionment of House and Senate seats. With the clock ticking for candidates to file their nominating petitions, justices suggested that the state might have to revert to its old maps, drawn up in 2001, for the time being.

The Pileggi suit, in which House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) is also a plaintiff, seeks an injunction to block the state from holding any election using the old maps. They say the U.S. Supreme Court's one-person, one-vote ruling requires a remapping after every decennial census so that all districts are about the same size in population.

A hearing is set for Monday.

The state Supreme Court ruling does not affect the redistricting of U.S. House districts, a separate process that has not been challenged. Congressional seats will also be on the April 24 ballot.

Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court on Friday issued an 87-page opinion - with several dissents from disappointed justices - explaining its decision to throw out the maps drawn up by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission.

It said the commission, in trying to give districts equal population, ran roughshod over other state constitutional requirements that districts be compact and that counties, municipalities, and even Philadelphia wards not be broken up unless "absolutely necessary."

It cited several examples of gerrymandering, including a proposal for the Third Senatorial District, which it said looked like a wishbone running "from the Far Northeast section of Philadelphia down into North Philadelphia, and then up again into the Roxborough/Chestnut Hill area."

Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, writing for the majority, said the plan clearly was unconstitutional. Castille said that if anyone was to blame for disruptions in the electoral process this primary season, it was the reapportionment commission and not the court.

He seemed to take note of critics who said the rejection already was causing confusion for candidates trying to get ready to run.

While that may be the case, he wrote, the fault belongs with the commission - composed of four legislative leaders and a neutral arbiter - which he said took much longer than necessary to come up with the map.

The plan, Castille said, "was adopted at such a late date" that "this court would lack adequate time to consider the matter, with due reflection, and issue a mandate and reasoned decision before the primary election process was under way."

Legislative leaders say they hope to vote on a new plan by Feb. 22, but the court said a new plan would still have to go through all the normal steps, including an appeals process.

Pileggi said the court was clearly more concerned with keeping undivided municipalities and compacted boundaries rather than population equity. But he said it offered no standard for compactness.

"Is it a you-know-it-when-you-see it standard, or something else?" he asked. "We don't know."

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny), an opponent of the reapportionment commission plan, said it was now time for the commission - of which both he and Pileggi are members - to remap the state.

"We have to do it right this time," Costa said. "A new plan should not be rammed through the process."

Contact staff writer Tom Infield at 610-313-8205 or tinfield@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus