PHILADELPHIA – In a 4 to 3 vote, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down plans for new legislative districts. Election districts for the state’s house and senate were redrawn by the bipartisan Legislative Reapportionment Commission to reflect population shifts outlined in the 2010 U.S. census. Overall, Pennsylvania’s population grew 3.4% to 12.7 million people, making it the 6th largest state. Population shifts, particularly declines in the west, prompted some significant adjustments in election districts.
Justices Castille, Baer, Todd, and McCaffery found the new plan “contrary to law” and ordered the 2001 Legislative Reapportionment Plan to remain in effect until a revised redistricing plan, having the force of law, is approved.
“For the first time in 50 years,” declared Kevin Washo, executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, “they rejected the plan proposed by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission for the state senate and house districts.”
Democrats have long complained about a closed door approach and partisan politics in redrawing the new maps. When the maps were revealed, democrats argued they unnecessarily split up cities and counties and moved election districts from one side of the state to the other.
Article 2, section 16 of the Pennsylvania Constitution states, “The Commonwealth shall be divided into 50 senatorial and 203 representative districts, which shall be composed of compact and contiguous territory as nearly equal in population as practicable. Each senatorial district shall elect one Senator, and each representative district one Representative. Unless absolutely necessary, no county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward shall be divided in forming either a senatorial or representative district.”
This week’s ruling sent the commission back to the drawing board. Justice Saylor, joined by Justices Eakin and Melvin, disagreed with the decision by saying, “Based on the petitions, briefs, and argument, I am not persuaded that the 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Plan is contrary to the law as reflected in the existing precedent. Although I am receptive to the concern that past decisions of the Court may suggest an unnecessarily stringent approach to equalization of population, as between voting districts, I believe this could be addressed via prospective guidance from the Court.”
Further guidance is yet to come. Dominic Pileggi is Republican senate majority leader and a member of the reapportionment commission. His communication and policy director, Erik Arneson explains, “At this point, all we know is that the Supreme Court did not approve the Commission’s plan—we do not know why.”
Arneson says everyone is waiting for the Supreme Court to release its opinion explaining why the plan was rejected. “It appears,” he adds, “that next week is the earliest the Supreme Court intends to release that opinion. Until then, it is impossible to accurately predict what changes might be necessary.”
The Court, however, did clarify all 2012 election dates shall remain the same, with the exception of the primary election calendar. That calendar is adjusted as follows:
Thursday, January 26: First day to circulate nomination petitions
Thursday, February 16: Last day to file nomination petitions
Thursday, Febrary 23: Last day that court may fix for hearings on objections to nomination petitions
Friday, March 2: Last day for court to finally determine objections to nomination petitions
Friday, March 2: Last day for withdrawal by candidates who filed nomination petitions
Petitions dated January 24 or January 25, 2012 will be considered valid, subject to any other statutory challenges.
All rights to this article are reserved by Gloria Blakely. Copyright 2012.