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Breaking: Supreme Court Redistricting Ruling: No Guidance for Candidates

By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor and Geoff Middleberg, Deputy Editor

Prospective candidates, it’s not over yet. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rendered its much-anticipated redistricting ruling Friday afternoon but declined to lay out a specific way forward for the 2012 elections.

The Court cited an excess in municipal divisions as its chief complaint with the plan.

“We are not in a position to predict when the LRC will complete its task of developing a new final redistricting plan that complies with law, nor when such a new plan can become final and have force of law,” the Court ruled. “Any issues respecting deferring the state legislative primary, or scheduling special elections, etc., are, in the first instance, the concern and province of the political branches. Such questions have not been briefed and presented to this Court.”

The court ruled last week 4-3 to remand the map back to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission.

Lawmakers are still absorbing the decision, but prior to the ruling Republicans were intent in enacting the new lines prior to the 2012 primary. The 2001 lines would negate the GOP’s efforts to shore up incumbents via redistricting. On the legal side, Republicans argue that the vast shift in population since 2001 means that those lines would violate constitutional provisions one man, one vote. Additionally, Latino groups have argued that the 2001 are illegal on the grounds that they do not reflect minority populations in Pa.

Democrats, on the other hand, say there is no way for the LRC to resubmit a map and put it forward for a 30 day review period in time for the April 24 primary, and are pushing for the 2001 lines.

A split between the state and federal primaries is unlikely, indicated one Republican, but said a measure to delay the primary would require a relatively simple change to the election code.

More about the decision

The ruling follows more than a week of confusion from lawmakers and prospective candidates. But the Court was direct in pointing the blame at the Legislative Reapportionment Commission which, despite technological advancements, the 2011 Commission took weeks longer than previous ones. (23 days longer than 2001, 27 days longer than 1991).

As to why this plan passed the muster as opposed to the 2001 plan, which was also challenged but Castille voted to uphold, the court said it was a matter of the fact that the 2001 challenges were piecemeal. The challenges this year, namely than by citizen activist Amanda Holt, challenged the plan as a whole.

The problem was not, as some suspected, the LRC’s decision to move districts from some parts of the state to others.

Finally, the LRC needn’t prioritize population equality at the expense of other considerations, the Court said.

“Embrace contiguity, compactness, and the integrity of political subdivisions, no less than the command to create legislative districts as nearly equal in population as ‘practicable.’”

8 Responses

  1. So we can have some certainty and stability, just use the 2001 maps. The LRC screwed up and the redistricting can occur after this election cycle. It is pathetic to hear the Republicans pretend to care about due process, the constitution, the voters in wanting new maps now – they just want the new maps to make sure that incumbent Republicans remain incumbents with new GOP-friendly maps.

  2. I am in agreement with the posters who have lauded the work of Amanda Holt. Certainly impressive work considering the lack of budgeting assistance to that end.

    When people ask , “what can one person or one group do?”, this is a good example.

    That said, what is the likelihood that the commission would actually adopt the plan she submitted? At least without a concerted campaign to adopt this plan coupled with moving back the primary date.

    Obviously the 2001 borders do not come close with the population compliance and the greater wrong would be sticking with the 2001 borders, even as opposed to the 2011 plan submitted by the LRC.

    It needs to go back to the LRC and gain priority status. If Amanda’s map was implemented, some districts would be absent a candidate because of the borders drawn.

  3. I want to thank Amanda as well. Let’s approve her maps and move on. She didn’t get paid $100,000 and served us better than the 253 that are elected to represent us.

  4. Thank you Amanda Holt. Its nice when one person can actually stand up, be heard and make a difference. When it comes to government and politics, I’m often a pessimist, but I appreciate the Supreme Court coming down on the side of the Constitution and forcing law makers to abide by it.

  5. The simple solution would be for the LRC to adopt Amanda Holt’s maps and have a second primary date later this year for State House and Senate seats.

  6. Seems to me there was plenty of guidance in the opinion…follow ALL of the words of the constitution; less divisions of municipalities and wards, a bit more elasticity in population deviation. Seemed pretty clear to me.

  7. I think it is a misleading statement to say “The Court cited an excess in municipal divisions as its chief complaint with the plan.” The “excess” of municipal divisions were, as I read the Court’s response, only the evidence. The chief complaint really was that the evidence showed beyond any doubt that the LRC had not concerned itself to abide by the requirement to divide municipalities only when “absolutely necessary”.

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