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.

Among those with reservations about the maps in 2011 were the Lancaster County Republican representatives, myself included, because it divided Lancaster County into two districts.

“We, as a House delegation, have been consistent in our belief that Lancaster County should remain united within the boundaries of the 16th Congressional District. We have all heard concerns from residents throughout Lancaster County, and we continue to believe our constituents would be best served by a single congressman.”

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
Click here to view the map.

18

51

125

9,804

Hanna 2011
Click here to view the map.

18

39

72

0

Stack/Chen
Click here to view the map.

18

14

50

0

Scarnati/Turzai
Click here to view the map.

18

15

17

0

 Wolf
Click here to view the map.
 18 16 40     0
Pa Courts
Click here to view the map
 18 15 19 0


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.

After the governor’s choice to reject our plan, we waited for a proposal from him. We hoped he would produce either a map or list of changes that could have been incorporated into an amendment for consideration in the legislative process early enough. That did not happen.

He has touted his hiring of an expert in the area, as well as his listening tour around the state. At least his expending of taxpayer dollars in these areas, along with an unwillingness to accept the fair plan in front of him, did eventually produce something. Unfortunately, the product was a map that was only available late Feb. 15, minutes before the court deadline and hours after his stated time of 5 p.m. Despite the extra time, his proposal still contains problems of dividing minority populations in Philadelphia, thereby destroying the current (and proposed one in the plan submitted by Turzai and Scarnati) majority minority district, as well as suffering deficiencies from compactness and maintenance of subdivisions. In doing so, he ignores the NAACP request for maintaining majority minority districts. The highest African-American voting age population district is only 44.01 percent in the Wolf plan (compared to 53.32 percent for the Scarnati-Turzai joint submission).

Multiple maps have been submitted to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court by numerous parties and special interest groups. The court, however, chose to draw its own. It is clear that the separation of powers in the Commonwealth is being tested. The only branch that has the constitutional authority to draw Congressional maps is the Legislature. As stated above, due to the insufficient and artificially shortened timeline fabricated by the court, none of these maps have passed through the proper legislative process.

The Elections Clause of the United States Constitution, Art. 1, § 4, cl. 1, reads as follows: “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but Congress may at any time make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of choosing Senators.” Due to the clear violation of the U.S. Constitution, this will head back to court, this time with the federal court.

My colleagues and I stand ready to continue our work on these maps; it’s my hope we will be met with that same willingness from our coequal branches of government. Hopefully, the higher courts decide to uphold the constitution and allow us more time to get this process right.