News

Trial considers whether voters are harmed by redistricting

Written by Geoff Mulvihill/Associated Press | Dec 5, 2017 1:37 PM
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(Philadelphia) -- With more competitive congressional districts, representatives would be more likely to work with the opposing party and listen more closely to their constituents, Democrats suing for a new congressional map in Pennsylvania told a panel of judges on Tuesday.

Louis Agre, the lead plaintiff in the case being heard in Philadelphia, said too many incumbents now are mostly concerned about primary challenges from the fringes within their own parties. With redrawn lines, he said, "we would have hopefully people in competitive districts working together to solve our problems."

Agre, a union official and ward leader in a Philadelphia voting district, and other Democratic voters are making the novel legal claim that no partisan considerations should be given when lawmakers approve district boundaries. They want the court to throw out the 2011 map in Pennsylvania. Since it was adopted, Republicans have won 13 of the state's 18 seats in the House of Representatives each year -- even in 2012, when more total votes were cast for Democrats.

The trial is moving quickly and could wrap up this week. Lawyers said two Republican lawmakers who could have shed light on the creation of the map -- state Senate President pro tempore Joseph Scarnati and House Speaker Mike Turzai -- would not be called to testify.

Lawyers for those Republican legislative leaders, who are the main defendants, pushed Agre and other plaintiffs to agree in ways they are not harmed by the district lines being drawn as they are. They're still able to vote, contribute money to candidates they support, speak up in public and contact their representatives.

Agre, for instance, said he talks about twice a month with Rep. Bob Brady, a Philadelphia Democrat who represents a district adjacent to Agre's.

A lawyer for the legislative leaders explored why the plaintiffs challenged the congressional map only in October, six years after it was made. Some plaintiffs said they became politically active only after last year's presidential election and helped form progressive groups whose issues of concern include fair congressional districts.

One of them was James Magidson, a Democrat from Haverford, outside Philadelphia. His U.S. House district is represented by a Republican. Kathleen Gallagher, a lawyer for the legislative leaders, asked him if he'd be part of the suit if a Democrat had won the last three elections in his district. Magidson said he would.

Gallagher asked, "This was about Donald Trump's election, not just your district, fair to say?"

He said that wasn't the case. He said he didn't realize until recently that the congressional map could be challenged.

Other plaintiffs include Reagan Hauer, from the Philadelphia suburb of Downingtown. She's a Democrat in a sprawling district represented by Republican Ryan Costello.

She said he'd prefer a competitive district, "particularly because I tend to be moderate and I like to see competition between the two parties and occasionally see a Republican or occasionally see a Democrat that I want to vote for."

Hauer said she was upset that Costello voted for a tax overhaul that Congress is working on. But she acknowledged that, perhaps bowing to pressure in his district, he voted against a Republican plan to scrap much of former President Barack Obama's health insurance overhaul -- something she wanted him to do.

An earlier story appears below. 

(Philadelphia) -- Lawyers for Republican legislative leaders in Pennsylvania want to know what took a group of Democratic voters six years to challenge a congressional district map.

Plaintiffs took the witness stand Tuesday in the second day of a trial in the case before a panel of three federal judges in Philadelphia.

Several of them said their voices have been diluted because the makeup of their districts changed.

Jason Magidson said he became active in politics after Donald Trump was elected president last year.

On cross-examination, lawyer Kathleen Gallagher questioned his sudden interest in whether his congressional district outside Philadelphia favors Republicans.

She asked if his concern was really about Trump's election, not his district.

He said he didn't realize until then that he could challenge the district.

An earlier story appears below. 

(Philadelphia) -- With more competitive congressional districts, representatives would be more likely to work with the opposing party and listen more closely to their constituents, Democrats suing for a new congressional map in Pennsylvania told a panel of judges on Tuesday.

Louis Agre, the lead plaintiff in the case being heard in Philadelphia, said too many incumbents now are mostly concerned about primary challenges from the fringes within their own parties. With redrawn lines, he said, "we would have hopefully people in competitive districts working together to solve our problems."

Agre, a union official and ward leader in a Philadelphia voting district, and other Democratic voters are making the novel legal claim that no partisan considerations should be given when lawmakers approve district boundaries. They want the court to throw out the 2011 map in Pennsylvania. Since it was adopted, Republicans have won 13 of the state's 18 seats in the House of Representatives each year -- even in 2012, when more total votes were cast for Democrats.

Lawyers for Republican legislative leaders, who are the main defendants, pushed Agre and other plaintiffs to agree in ways they are not harmed by the district lines being drawn as they are. They're still able to vote, contribute money to candidates they support, speak up in public and contact their representatives.

Agre, for instance, said he talks about twice a month with Rep. Bob Brady, a Philadelphia Democrat who represents a district adjacent to Agre's.

Other plaintiffs include Reagan Hauer, from the Philadelphia suburb of Downingtown. She's a Democrat in a sprawling district represented by Republican Ryan Costello.

She said he'd prefer a competitive district, "particularly because I tend to be moderate and I like to see competition between the two parties and occasionally see a Republican or occasionally see a Democrat that I want to vote for."

Hauer said she was upset that Costello voted for a tax overhaul that Congress is working on. But she acknowledged that, perhaps bowing to pressure in his district, he voted against a Republican plan to scrap much of former President Barack Obama's health insurance overhaul -- something she wanted him to do.

An earlier story appears below. 

(Philadelphia) -- Democratic voters who are suing over Pennsylvania's map of congressional districts say they don't have the same voice with their representatives as they would in more evenly balanced districts.

But they acknowledged during a trial today that they have never been blocked from voting, contributing to candidates they support, speaking out politically or trying to reach members of Congress.

The voters want a three-judge federal panel to throw out a congressional map that was drawn in 2011, arguing that there should be no consideration of political outcomes when lawmakers decide on new maps.

Today was the first time the judges heard testimony from plaintiffs in the case.

They also heard conflicting views from expert witnesses on whether the current map was more gerrymandered than the one a decade earlier.

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