Pennsylvania voters and lawmakers are awaiting major decisions from the state’s Supreme Court.
Last Thursday, the court heard cases not only regarding the Voter ID law but also congressional redistricting in the state. The court has not yet released decisions on either issue.
In January, the court rejected the redistricting plan drawn up by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. The commission consists of leaders of both parties from the State Senate and House of Representatives as well as a chair who is chosen by the legislators or by the Pa. Supreme Court if a consensus is not met.
The current chair of the commission is 1957 Law School graduate Stephen McEwen.
The court denied these original maps in January because they broke up too many already existing districts and municipalities.
The commission presented a new set of plans in April which are now being challenged. Although the new plans certainly divide fewer districts than the original ones, many believe that the commission did not go far enough to try to maintain existing boundaries. New district lines would take effect in 2014.
The issue arises from what political science assistant professor Marc Meredith describes as a “tension” between the federal mandate and the state constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court stipulates that districts must include a similar number of constituents based on the recent census, while the Pennsylvania state constitution states that districts should not be further subdivided unless “absolutely necessary.”
Particularly when tied with the Voter ID laws, many Democrats label the new redistricting plan as an attempt at gerrymandering given that the GOP has a majority in both chambers and lead the drafting of the maps proposed in January and April.
“These maps were drawn in a way that divides communities, that throws communities together that have nothing in common — all to ensure that Republicans win elections,” said state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery/Delaware), according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Leach is one of the 20 senators challenging the new districting plan.
Commission member and Senate majority leader Dominic Pileggi said, “the revised map very clearly complies with the direction given by the court to the commission in its first opinion, and I am very confident that it meets the requirements.”
Meredith said, “Both [the Voter ID laws and redistricting] are part of an inherently political process, but in terms of the court they will be thought of very separately.”