Pa. Supreme Court to review districting plan

Posted: September 14, 2012

HARRISBURG - The marquee case Thursday before the state Supreme Court may be the state's new voter-ID law, but the justices will also hear arguments on another high-profile voting matter: what Pennsylvania's legislative districts will look like for much of the next decade.

The high court is to consider challenges on Thursday to proposed new maps for Pennsylvania's 203 House and 50 Senate districts. The maps were drawn in April by a bipartisan panel, consisting mostly of legislators, that is charged with recasting legislative boundaries every 10 years based on census changes.

But a number of critics, from private citizens to Democratic legislators, are challenging the proposed new maps, contending they unnecessarily divide counties and municipalities into separate legislative districts.

And that, they argue, runs counter to the state constitution, which among other things requires that no political subdivision be split unless "absolutely necessary."

"I really value our constitution, and I feel like it is being marginalized in this [redistricting] process," said Amanda Holt, a citizen activist from Allentown who, together with 17 other residents, is challenging the maps.

It is not the first time the maps have landed before the high court.

The Supreme Court in January threw out 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, if they cannot agree, appointed by the Supreme Court.

In its split opinion in January, the majority of justices said the initial maps would have divided too many municipalities, and ordered the commission back to the drawing table.

The commission in April came up with the revised maps now being challenged.

Those maps would take effect for 2014 elections. Legislative races on this year's general election ballot will be based on the old map, enacted in 2001.

Supporters say the revised maps contain far fewer divided municipalities. For House seats, the original plan enacted last year contained 108 so-called splits, while the revised map has 68. The new Senate map contains 37 splits, as opposed to 58 originally.

"The revised map very clearly complies with the direction given by the court to the commission in its first opinion, and I am very confident that it meets the [constitutional] requirements," said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), a member of the Reapportionment Commission.

But critics contend the proposed plan still falls short. Democrats, in particular, have branded it a thinly veiled attempt at gerrymandering. Republicans control both legislative chambers and crafted both sets of maps.

"These maps were drawn in a way that divides communities, that throws communities together that have nothing in common - all to ensure that Republicans win elections," said Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery), who along with the Senate's 19 other Democrats are also challenging the revised maps.

"That is a recipe for perpetual control of one party," Leach argued. "It is not good for Pennsylvania. It is only good for the people who hold power."


Contact Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934, acouloumbis@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @AngelasInk.

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