"Everyone understands that [redistricting] is an inherently political process," said Frank Rothermel, one of the lawyers challenging the maps on behalf of residents in several counties, including Philadelphia, Bucks, and Montgomery.
But Rothermel argued that the state constitution specifically directs state officials creating new legislative districts to split towns and municipalities only when "absolutely necessary." The reason: to prevent political manipulation of the process.
"We don't want 'safe' districts," Rothermel said, "we want a fair process. A fair shot."
Lawyers for the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, which drew the maps, argued that commission members followed previous instructions from the court while working within the political realities of coming up with a plan that needs bipartisan support.
"Talking about the number of splits," rather than the type, "is ridiculous," said William Stickman, an attorney for the reapportionment commission.
Thursday's arguments were not the first time the maps have been challenged before the high court.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court narrowly rejected a plan adopted late last year by the five-member Legislative Reapportionment Commission. The commission consists of the Republican and Democratic leaders from each legislative chamber and a chairman picked either by the legislative members or appointed by the Supreme Court.
At the time, the majority of justices said the initial maps would have divided too many municipalities, counties, and wards, and ordered the commission back to the drawing table with instructions on how to remedy the problem.
The commission in April came up with the revised maps now being challenged. Those maps would take effect for the 2014 elections; and all legislative races on the November ballot will be based on the map enacted in 2001.
The court heard arguments on redistricting on the same day it considered another high-profile voting case: the state's new voter-ID law.
The justices are widely expected to render an opinion on the voter-ID issue, in which opponents seek an injunction before the November election, before they tackle redistricting.
Contact Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934, email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @AngelasInk.