State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Pennsylvania is being sued for unconstitutional gerrymandering

Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | Jun 15, 2017 7:01 PM

David Gersch, a lawyer representing the complainants, noted that in one place, two sections of the 7th congressional district only connect through a restaurant-sized portion of land. (Photo by Katie Meyer/WITF)

(Harrisburg) -- Mary Elizabeth Lawn is a Democrat living in Pennsylvania's notoriously sprawling 7th congressional district. It's a fairly safe district for Republicans, and Lawn is concerned that the way its lines are drawn makes her vote count less.

"My district looks like cartoon characters fighting, and it's spread out over five counties," she said, referring to the colloquial nickname for Pennsylvania's 7th: "Goofy kicking Donald Duck."

The League of Women voters says districts like Lawn's are the reason it, and several individual plaintiffs, are now filing a lawsuit against Pennsylvania in Commonwealth Court. Specifically, they're suing over the state's 2011 congressional map, calling it an "unconstitutional partisan gerrymander."

If the suit is successful, the 2011 map will be thrown out and will have to be redrawn--potentially ahead of the planned 2021 redistricting.

Lawyer David Gersch, with Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, a firm helping represent the plaintiffs, noted that although the map in question was Republican-drawn, Democrats are just as guilty of gerrymandering when they can.

He said if his side wins the suit, their goal is to make redistricting as neutral as possible.

"The way they make the map now is, for a particular voting bloc they say, how has it voted in the past?" he said. "They say, oh well this is a Democratic district, let's put it over here; this is a Republican district...we don't want the maps made using that kind of calculation."

Several studies have ranked Pennsylvania as one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. 

Governor Tom Wolf's office said he hasn't reviewed the suit yet, but noted that he "believes the redistricting process should be fair and transparent."

A spokesman for the House GOP defended the most recent redistrict--saying it was "crafted and passed in a bipartisan fashion," and that the current district lines were drawn after "more public hearings than ever before." 

Published in News, State House Sound Bites

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