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A federal judge in Philadelphia ruled Wednesday that Pennsylvania must use its 2001 legislative maps for the 2012 elections. Murkiness had surrounded plans to hold the April 24 primary. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected new state legislative district maps based on 2010 Census data, ruling that the maps violated the constitutional requirement for compactness, contiguity and integrity of political subdivisions. So, the Legislative Reapportionment Commissionmust redraw the maps, throwing uncertainty into the spring primary. Join the conversation, tonight at 8 on witf TV's Smart Talk.
Late last month, the state Supreme Court did what virtually no one thought they would do – they threw out the new state legislative district maps and decades of election-law precedent. The maps, based on 2010 Census data, would govern the boundaries for candidates running for state legislative office for the next decade. The five-member, Republican-majority commission has come under heavy fire for splitting municipalities and counties into multiple districts. It is ironic, however, that the new maps split far fewer municipalities than the 2001 maps that have governed state elections for the last 10 years. The state Supreme Court has ordered that those old maps should be used for the 2012 election, if the LRC cannot approve new maps in time.
Legislative Democratic leaders opposed the federal lawsuits filed by Republican leaders to prevent any election based on the 2001 maps. They argue that the primary is already underway and that it would disenfranchise voters and could cost $25 million to move it. GOP leaders say shifts in the state's population, particularly from the west to the east since 2001, make it unconstitutional to use the old maps. Many Latino groups agreed. Their population has jumped over the last decade and they were due to get new Latino-majority districts. Now, Federal Judge Robert Surrick has dismissed the Republican and Latino lawsuits over the 2001 maps. Judge Surrick wrote, "... the primary election is eleven weeks away. In view of this immediacy, we are compelled to have the elections proceed under the 2001 Plan. In short, this is precisely a case 'where an impending election is imminent and a State's election machinery is already in progress,' such that a court may withhold from granting relief, even if the existing apportionment scheme is found to be invalid.
"To enjoin the 2012 election from proceeding under the 2001 Plan would leave the Pennsylvania primary in a state of unacceptable uncertainty. Perhaps this is why the Supreme Court directed that the 2001 Plan be used," Judge Surrick wrote. He added, "With election deadlines quickly approaching, and no existing alternative reapportionment plan, Defendant needs certainty as to how to proceed. There is no reasonable alternative at this point but to allow the elections to proceed under the 2001 Plan."
Amanda Holt, a part-time piano teacher and graphic designer from Allentown, was intrigued by the entire redistricting process. She took it upon herself to design new maps and challenged the LRC's version in court. She testified before the state Supreme Court, and clearly, the justices were taken with her testimony. In their written opinion, they singled out Ms. Holt's submission as conforming to the Constitution. Amanda Holt will join us tomorrow night.
Also with us are Dr. G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, and Professor John L. Gedid, director of the Law and Government Institute at Widener University School of Law's Harrisburg Campus.
As for the timeline, GOP legislative leaders hope to vote on a plan by Feb. 22, but the state Supreme Court has said a new plan will still have to undergo a 30-day public-comment process and a 30-day appeals process. Candidates for House and Senate seats are collecting signatures using the 2001 boundaries as a guide. They have until Feb. 16 to file nominating petitions. We'd love to hear your thoughts on the redistricting situation. Call 1-800-729-7532, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or post a comment here or to witf's Facebook page.
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