Republican redistricting plan denied by Pa. Supreme Court
Surprising decision marks first time a gerrymandering plan shot down since 1968
February 1, 2012, 10:50 pm·
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has remanded a redistricting plan that would benefit the Republican incumbents.
A proposal from December 2011 drawn up by the 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission sought to divide cities and neighborhoods into new districts in a way that some perceive would benefit Republican incumbents.
“It is generally the case that whatever party is in control of the district will protect that party,” Political Science professor Marc Meredith said.
To the surprise of many, the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court — which has a Republican majority — remanded the redistricting proposal on Jan. 25, sending it back to the Commission, saying that the plan was “contrary to the law.”
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, this is the first time a redistricting plan has not been approved since 1968, when the state adopted a revised constitution. It has been a long tradition of the Supreme Court accepting redistricting plans based on partisan favoritism.
But in a four to three decision, Repub. Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille voted with the Democrats to remand the proposal. Districts are now divided according to the 2001 redistricting plan. The current districts will continue to be used until the Court approves another plan.
“This is politics at its worse,” Penn Democrats President and College junior Andrew Silverstein wrote in an email.
“The Republicans are continuing to take advantage of their large majorities in the legislature as well as the governorship at the expense of the people of Pennsylvania,” he added.
Silverstein did admit that both parties “engage in this practice,” which political scientists call gerrymandering.
College freshman and Pennsylvania resident Seth Koren believes redistricting favors one party over another in a way that “really corrupts the democratic process.”
Technology also plays a large role in the redistricting process. “The technology for gerrymandering has gotten [very] sophisticated” and is able to create “increasingly bizarre districts and still satisfy the population criteria,” Political Science professor emeritus Jack Nagel said.
Koren said modern technology should be the solution to preventing gerrymandering. He believes that computer algorithms should be used to create “inherently unbiased [districts] toward either party.”
Redistricting with partisan goals often sparks controversies. Nagel believes the process is “very harmful to the quality of democracy in the U.S.” because it “reduces people’s trust in government [and] produces bias in the government.”
There is “research in political science [that] suggests that it can be problematic for communities” when they are split up into multiple districts, Meredith said, noting that there can be some advantages to the redistricting process.
Before deciding whether or not redistricting is appropriate, Meredith said, one should consider the alternatives.
State legislative candidates were expecting the redistricting proposal to be approved. The Court decision has caused some candidates to drop out of the state primary race because under the current plan, they do not live in the districts they were planning to run in. Pennsylvania law requires that candidates live in the district for which they are seeking a seat.
This ruling had no effect on national congressional districts, which were independently drawn up by the state legislature and approved by the state Supreme Court.