State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Court upholds state House and Senate districts on second try

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | May 8, 2013 4:54 PM
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Photo by Mary Wilson / witf

After more than a year of legal challenges, the state has new district lines for the House and Senate. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has unanimously ruled to uphold the state Legislature’s second stab at drawing new districts.

The maps were challenged by several groups – among them, a piano teacher and self-styled redistricting savant who drew her own maps to show there was a better way.

That argument worked the first time around, two Januarys ago, when the court rejected the Legislature’s maps for having districts that divided too many towns and counties and looked particularly tortured.

But the court says potential problems with redistricting 2.0 are “not nearly as dramatic,” and notes mapmakers had to juggle several constitutional requirements. It also didn’t hold political considerations against the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, as one of panel’s members noted.

“It recognizes and explicitly says that politics is a part of this process and there’s nothing constitutionally objectionable about that,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, pausing between reporters’ questions to flip through his print-out of the 59-page decision.

Chief Justice Ron Castille wrote the ruling, acknowledging that appellants did offer plans with fewer splits. The opinion also suggests the LRC didn’t help its case (that it correctly hewed to constitutional requirements) by creating maps that preserve the cores of existing districts and protect incumbent lawmakers.

“The difficulty, however, resides in attempting to identify with any level of precision where and how, if at all, these political factors cross the line, and can be said to have caused subdivision splits that were not absolutely necessary,” writes Castille.

Senate Democratic Minority Leader Jay Costa is the only member of the redistricting panel who voted against the now approved maps and was among many groups that challenged the maps in court.

Costa said he’s disappointed, “but we recognize that it is now time to move on and allow for the implementation of the lines as they’ve been drafted in our view in a partisan way by the reapportionment commission.”

The court-approved district lines will be in effect in 2014. They’re long overdue, too – last decade’s district lines had to be used for the 2012 election because this matter was still tied up in court.

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