Though the language of the Pennsylvania Constitution is clear about how legislative maps should be drawn – municipalities shall not be split unless “absolutely necessary” – the politicians in charge of the process have long ignored its direction, instead drawing maps designed to help incumbent legislators keep their seats.
The Constitution’s direction to keep communities whole is not arbitrary, but attempts to maximize citizen voices in the political process by building coherent constituencies for legislators – and by preventing highly politicized gerrymandering. In December 2011, the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC) released a redistricting plan that ignored this direction.
At the request of the Law Center and Hogan Lovells, the Supreme Court for the first time ever rejected the redistricting plan because it did not uphold “compactness, contiguity, and integrity of political subdivisions”, in accordance with Article II, Section 16 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. On remand, the LRC created a revised plan. In May 2013 the Supreme Court accepted the revised plan although it maintains 135 more subdivisions in House districts and 20 more subdivisions in the Senate districts than petitioner Holt’s revised plan. The Law Center will continue to monitor this process in future redistricting cycles.
- Petition for Review
- Brief of Petitioners
- Supreme Court Opinion
- Letter to PLRC Offering Assistance
- Petition for Second Review
- Brief regarding Revised Redistricting Plan
- Final Supreme Court Opinion
Redistricting Plan Accepted by Supreme Court – 1.9 million Pa. residents spared from further subdivision
In May 2013, the Supreme Court accepted LRC’s second redistricting proposal which will go into effect in the 2014 election cycle. The Court’s decision will keep 1.9 million residents from being split into unnecessarily subdivided legislative districts as proposed in the LRC’s original map.
Although the Court favored the LRC’s revised plan over petitioner Amanda Holt’s revised plan, in making its ruling the Court upheld the right of citizens to submit alternative plans and appeal future LRC proposals. Additionally, the Court protected consideration of citizen submissions by ruling that future LRC plans will not simply be deferred to in determining appropriate redistricting. Finally the Court’s decision noted that LRC’s responsibility to follow the constitutional obligation to protect the integrity of legislative districts outweighs the Commission’s need to maintain political balance or “continuity of representation” in devising new maps.
Brief Filed to Oppose the LRC’s Revised Redistricting Plan
The Law Center and Hogan Lovells have again filed a brief on behalf of Amanda Holt and 17 other petitioners to challenge the revised redistricting plan made by the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC). After a second failed attempt, we are now asking that the Court instruct the LRC to adopt the Revised Holt Plan or a plan that creates no more subdivisions than the Revised Holt Plan.
Second Round of Challenges filed to Oppose the LRC’s Revised Redistricting Plan
The Law Center, working with Hogan Lovells US LLP, has filed a Petition for Second Review on behalf of petitioners Amanda Holt et al in response to the LRC’s Revised Redistricting Plan. The LRC’s revised plan still violates Section 16 of the PA Constitution by proposing dozens of unnecessary splits to municipalities and disregards the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s February 3rd decision affirming that splits could only be made when absolutely necessary. The LRC elected not to adopt the plan created by petitioner Holt, which achieved better population equality and made half as many splits. This latest petition asks that the LRC revise their plan yet again, with closer compliance to the Revised Holt Plan.
PLRC Passes Another Unconstitutional Plan
On June 8th, 2012, the LRC voted to approve an amended redistricting plan that still contains dozens of unnecessary splits in municipalities. Just six months after the Pa. Supreme Court’s historic rebuke, the LRC seems to have again forgotten the Pennsylvania Constitution’s clear direction that splits can only be made ‘when absolutely necessary’.
As plaintiff Amanda Holt told the Associated Press following the vote, “It doesn’t seem like our Constitution is really being put first in this process.”
New Map Drafted, But Limited Improvement
Just a few months after the Law Center and its clients won a historic appeal before the Supreme Court, the LRC has released a revised plan that does little to improve upon its predecessor. Law Center client Amanda Holt testified at a public hearing on the plan (as quoted in a Patriot News editorial): “I can only conclude the revised plan … needlessly sacrifices the Constitution on the altar of incumbent protection
The PLRC will vote on its final plan in early June.
Law Center, Co-Counsel & Clients Offer Assistance to LRC
Our co-counsel at Hogan Lovells has reached out to the LRC to offering our assistance in drafting a new plan on such a tight timeline. The letter states: “Speed and clarity are essential, [so] we believe that the Holt Plan is the only serious starting point.”
Pa. Supreme Court Releases Opinions
On February 3rd, 2012, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania released its opinion documenting its reasons for overturning the PLRC’s proposed redistricting plan. As we expected, the majority opinion relied heavily on the comprehensive appeal we filed along with Hogan Lovells on behalf of Amanda Holt and other Pennsylvania citizens.
The appeal had a high hurdle to cross – as the opinion notes, the Court’s decision has “disrupted the 2012 primary election landscape” – but as the Court further explains, they could not ignore a clear Constitutional mandate to avoid splitting municipalities unless absolutely necessary, something the Holt plan powerfully demonstrated the LRC had failed to do.
While the opinion does not give specific instructions in designing a new plan, it emphasizes that the LRC must consider contiguity, compactness & integrity of political subdivisions, which have historically been neglected.
Pa. Supreme Court Makes Historic Ruling for Law Center & Clients
On January 25th, 2012, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court made a historic ruling in favor of the Law Center and its clients in our appeal of the PLRC’s redistricting plan, agreeing that the plan violated the State Constitution.
This is the first time the Court has ever rejected the LRC’s plan.
The historic ruling is a testament to the powerful case brought by the petitioners – especially Ms. Holt, who designed the alternative plan on which the appeal was based – and to the effective representation provided by Law Center attorney Michael Churchill and co-counsel David Newmann and Virginia Gibson from the law firm Hogan Lovells US LLP.
Because of the tight schedule for developing a new plan before primary elections in April, the Court released its decision without accompanying opinions documenting its reasoning. The Court’s opinions are expected soon.