New Castle News


May 10, 2013

Our Opinion: Court frowns on gerrymandering, but only slightly

NEW CASTLE — Pennsylvania legislators have received the green light to put their own political interests ahead of yours.

That’s a key point in the latest Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling on legislative apportionment in the commonwealth. Harrisburg will now implement its map of state House and Senate districts in next year’s elections.

As you may recall, the Legislature’s original reapportionment plan following the 2010 census was rejected by the court, after questions arose about some of the shapes and rationales for some of the districts.

The justices rightly questioned why districts weren’t as compact as they could be and why so many municipalities were divided into two legislative districts.

The answer to those questions is simple: Politics. Reapportionment always has been an intensely political process, designed to serve two key functions. The first is to benefit the party in power and the second is to protect incumbents by making their districts as friendly as possible.

It should be noted that these two factors have little or nothing to do with serving the interests of citizens. And by rejecting the first reapportionment plan crafted by the Legislature, the court at long last seemed to be putting the people first.

Unfortunately, that concern for the citizenry in Harrisburg goes only so far. In approving the second version of reapportionment, the high court readily acknowledged the crafting of legislative districts is a political process, allowing lawmakers to “operate at will,” at least within certain parameters.

So absent blatant examples of political gerrymandering that stick out like the proverbial sore thumbs, politicians can carve out districts in any way they see fit, and can base their decisions on self-serving standards.

That’s perfectly legal and constitutional. But why?

Shouldn’t the process of creating legislative districts put the people — and not the politicians — first? It’s true that Pennsylvania’s constitution does not make such a declaration when it comes to reapportionment. But it also does not endorse the notion that reapportionment is a politician protection plan.

While we applauded last year’s state Supreme Court ruling that rejected the first reapportionment map, we would have hoped the justices ultimately would have taken that step a little further. In the end, all they did was tell legislators they just need to be a little more careful with their manipulations.

The carving of legislative districts, and the safe geographic areas they create, are major factors in the political divisiveness this nation faces. When politicians don’t have to listen to a variety of constituencies, the traditional compromise and negotiation that make for effective government are thwarted.

Reapportionment isn’t just a political game. It’s about making government work for everyone.

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