Setting the Record Straight on Redistricting
Recently, Pennsylvania’s congressional maps have become a topic about which I have received several inquiries and a hot button issue in the media. Given the interest and some misunderstanding on this topic, I wanted to provide some clarity regarding what has happened thus far and how this could possibly unfold in the coming weeks.

We should begin with the origin of the current congressional maps. In 2011, the House and Senate began redrawing the maps based on the 2010 census, and that map passed the House with a bipartisan 136 votes. In fact, less than 102 favorable votes came from Republicans, which means the congressional maps would not have been approved without support from Democrats. 

After passing the House and Senate, the governor’s office signed off on the plan, and that map took effect. Those districts have been in place now for the past three election cycles, absent any legal challenges coming until this year. While I opposed the map itself, I respected the process because it was one that followed the Constitutional process of legislation that was available for consideration, input and amendments.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated the maps which is constitutionally within their powers. Remedial legislative action in this matter, however, would be almost impossible for the Legislature as it was given merely 18 days to comply and the standards by which the new maps were to be drawn were not released until late on the 16th day. The legislative process is lengthy and consists of multiple steps including a constitutionally required three days of consideration in each chamber – steps we must follow.

Absent an agreed to legislative proposal from the Legislature and the governor, the Court has threatened to draw the lines themselves. This is not within their constitutional powers, and fabricating inaction due to an unrealistic timeframe is not an excuse to usurp power from another branch of government. I am in agreement with the nine page dissenting opinion from Justice Max Baer where he points out failing to allow sufficient time for action in the legislative body “impinges upon the due process rights of the parties at bar as well as other interested parties, and foments unnecessary confusion in the current election cycle.”

The leaders in the House and Senate Republican caucuses submitted our plan to the governor and the court on Feb. 9, meeting the unconstitutional and ridiculous timeframe, given the 139 page opinion from the courts which was only issued on day 16 of their imposed 18 day deadline. The map we submitted is both constitutional and meets the criteria set forth by the Court for compactness, contiguity and respecting political subdivisions. A breakdown on the splits is listed below.
 

Year

Number of Districts

Split Counties

Split Municipalities

Deviation

1971

25

9

4

10,499

1981

23

16

3

1,349

1991

21

19

14

64

2001

19

25

67

0

2011 Enacted

18

28

68

0

Costa 2011

18

51

125

9,804

Hanna 2011

18

39

72

0

Stack/Chen

18

14

50

0

Scarnati/Turzai

18

15

17

0


Click here to view the Scarnati/Turzai plan.

Unfortunately, the governor chose to reject that map. In his written response to the Legislature, he essentially pre-vetoed the map and cited his issues with the map – issues that were either fabricated or unrealistic. His claim of squeezing densely populated areas into small districts is absurd; of course highly populated areas will be contained in one district. Otherwise, we would need to split cities (going against the very court order of keeping political subdivisions intact). Additionally, the request of not connecting Erie to rural areas is simply impossible. Erie’s population would not make up an entire congressional district and every surrounding county is, in actuality, a rural area.

With the governor’s choice to reject our plan, we hope he soon provides an alternate proposal – either a map or list of changes that can be incorporated into an amendment for consideration in the legislative process.

He has touted his hiring of an expert in the area, as well as his listening tour around the state. It’s my assumption that his expending of taxpayer dollars in these areas, along with an unwillingness to accept the fair plan in front of him, would lead to an alternate plan actually being submitted.

My colleagues and I stand ready to continue our work on these maps. Hopefully we will be met with that same willingness from our coequal branches of government instead of the partisan rhetoric that has consumed their time.