New Castle News


September 13, 2012

Our Opinion: Court takes another look at reapportionment plan

NEW CASTLE — Pennsylvanians will soon learn if a revised legislative remapping plan passes legal muster.

The state Supreme Court is conducting a hearing today on the latest plan to draw up new House and Senate districts in the commonwealth. This follows a failed effort earlier this year, when justices rejected a map crafted by Harrisburg Republicans.

At the time, a majority on the court made it clear the plan was flawed because it split municipalities and created districts with bizarre shapes that failed to preserve a sense of community. Instead, it was a plan primarily designed to help keep Republican lawmakers in office.

Such gerrymandering is nothing new. Both parties engage in such practices across the country when opportunity strikes. But we were pleased to see the high court step up and speak out on behalf of real people and real communities, albeit belatedly

Legislative reapportionment should first and foremost be about serving citizens. Sadly, however, it’s more often used as a mechanism to protect incumbents and parties in power.

Because of the prior Supreme Court decision on reapportionment, old districts were kept in place for an additional two years, while a new plan was drafted. This revision is what is now before the court. It again is a map designed mainly by Republicans, while it faces legal challenges from various entities, including all 20 Democratic members of the state Senate.

The new plan indeed creates more compact and sensible districts, but critics say it could be better. It will be up to the court to decide if the plan goes far enough.

Meanwhile, we were struck by comments made to the press by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, one of the chief supporters of the revised map. Pileggi believes the new plan will survive legal challenges, but he criticized the lack of “objective guidance from the court” in its prior ruling on how to go about the task of improving district designs.

From our perspective, it’s not up to the courts to tell the Legislature how to do its job. Instead, the Supreme Court is like a referee in a game, deciding whether or not actions on the field are proper. The court’s task is to make sure the teams follow the rules, not to tell them how to play.

More specific “guidance” from the court could be construed as legislating from the bench, an activity that’s rightly criticized when it occurs.

If the high court accepts the new reapportionment plan, efforts can begin to implement it and candidates will know the shapes of their districts in 2014. But if this map also fails to impress the justices, it will be back to the drawing board.

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