Court rul­ing sets stage for real re­form

Northern Berks Patriot Item - - OPINION -

Our “goofy” Con­gres­sional dis­tricts are no longer a laugh­ing mat­ter.

That be­came clear when a Com­mon­wealth Court judge agreed with the League of Women Vot­ers and oth­ers in rul­ing that the re­dis­trict­ing process done by the Penn­syl­va­nia Leg­is­la­ture back in 2011 based on the re­sults of the 2010 cen­sus was bla­tantly par­ti­san.

Here’s a stun­ner. Repub­li­cans con­trol both the state House and Se­nate.

So their ver­sion of re­dis­trict­ing was heav­ily tilted to pro­tect GOP in­cum­bents. It’s called “ger­ry­man­der­ing,” and in Penn­syl­va­nia it’s an art form.

Re­dis­trict­ing is done ev­ery 10 years to re­flect the changes in the cen­sus. Since it’s done by politi­cians, it should surprise no one that it drips with par­ti­san shenani­gans. In essence, to the vic­tor go the spoils.

This time around, that meant that district boundaries were twisted and con­torted into bizarre shapes, all to the ben­e­fit of Repub­li­can con­gress­men.

That’s part of the rea­son Repub­li­cans sit in 13 of the state’s 18 dis­tricts, de­spite fac­ing a grow­ing Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity in reg­is­tered vot­ers and de­spite the state’s clear Demo­cratic drift in re­cent elec­tions.

The judge agreed with ev­ery­thing those who filed suit against the re­dis­trict­ing plan put forth. Ex­cept for one. His rec­om­men­da­tion to the state Supreme Court was that it was not nec­es­sar­ily un­con­sti­tu­tional.

Here’s one more stun­ner. The high court dis­agreed. This week they tossed out the Con­gres­sional maps.

And here’s the big­gest stun­ner of all. Not only did the court toss the maps, they or­dered the Leg­is­la­ture to draw up new ones and sub­mit them to Gov. Tom Wolf by Feb. 15. And if they did not the court sug­gested they would do it them­selves.

In ef­fect, the court said they want new boundaries for the state’s con­gres­sional dis­tricts – in­clud­ing that out­ra­geous “Goofy kick­ing Don­ald Duck” de­sign of the 7th District seat here in Delaware County– in time for the May pri­maries. That’s a huge task. Repub­li­cans are not happy at this out­come. They are ask­ing the state Supreme Court to stay their own order. It did not es­cape any­one’s at­ten­tion that the Penn­syl­va­nia Supreme Court is a 5-2 Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity.

On Thurs­day they took their fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, ask­ing the jus­tices to halt the Pa. order. They claim the judges don’t have the author­ity to do what they did, that this falls un­der the pre­view of the Leg­is­la­ture. There is some merit to the claim put forth by state Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore Joe Scar­nati and House Speaker Mike Turzai – both Repub­li­cans by the way that the rul­ing could throw the 2018 Con­gres­sional elec­tion into chaos.

In a few weeks, can­di­dates will start col­lect­ing sig­na­tures on their nom­i­nat­ing pe­ti­tions. Vot­ers will go to the polls in the pri­mary in May.

“The court’s de­ci­sion poses a pro­found threat to the in­tegrity of Penn­syl­va­nia’s up­com­ing Con­gres­sional elec­tions,” their fil­ing states.

All of this is just one more rea­son to get this en­tire process out of the hands of politi­cians.

The court sent the mat­ter back to the Leg­is­la­ture, but that still means po­lit­i­cal con­cerns will hold forth.

And yes, it has not es­caped our no­tice that the Demo­cratic high court tossed a process that fa­vored Repub­li­can can­di­dates.

We fa­vor a plan put forth by a group called Fair Dis­tricts PA.

They sug­gest mak­ing re­dis­trict­ing the do­main of an 11-mem­ber in­de­pen­dent, non­par­ti­san com­mis­sion, start­ing with the re­sults of the up­com­ing 2020 cen­sus. It won’t be easy. To do that sup­port­ers will need to pass an amend­ment to the state con­sti­tu­tion.

And to do that the Leg­is­la­ture would have to ap­prove bills in two suc­ces­sive ses­sions just to get the mea­sure in front of the vot­ers via ref­er­en­dum by 2020.

The al­ter­na­tive is more of the same, with po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions still hold­ing sway over a process crit­i­cal to our demo­cratic un­der­pin­nings.

The rul­ing by the state Supreme Court was a good start.

Now it’s time for the Leg­is­la­ture and state vot­ers to fin­ish the job.

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