The outcry to change how Pennsylvania draws Congressional and General Assembly District maps began soon after the 2016 Presidential Election.
Redistricting reform has long been a goal of mine. As chair of the Senate State Government Committee, I was looking forward to scheduling public hearings across the Commonwealth on all the proposed bills to change the redistricting process.
Some of those interested in redistricting reform decided they didn’t want to wait for the legislative process. When lawsuits were filed to challenge the constitutionality of the 2011 maps, I was forced to put the planned hearings on hold. It’s next to impossible to have a good public discussion while an issue is being litigated.
During the ongoing court proceedings, my staff and I met with many citizens and advocacy groups to discuss their support for various redistricting changes. I am perplexed by comments from some advocates. Most surprising were two board members from the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters who told me they had not read the bill they support. They could not explain how it would work. They couldn’t express why it’s better than other bills under consideration.
Other advocates surprised me when they declared voters could not be trusted to select delegates to a proposed citizens’ redistricting commission. They argued “party bosses” would take over. They seem to have forgotten I was opposed by the party establishment.
I have yet to meet someone who will address my biggest concern with proposed plans to change redistricting: if a revamped commission would be unable to draw new maps, lines would be drawn by a “special master.” How does having one – unelected – person drawing maps constitute “reform?”
Thanks to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, we may all soon get an answer to this question. If the General Assembly isn’t able to get new maps to the Governor by February 9 and if the Governor doesn’t approve a plan by February 15, the Court will draw the lines. They already have a “special advisor” – again, just one person. This is “reform?”
Beyond the fear of one person redrawing maps, I’m shocked by the Court’s lack of respect for our Constitution. Article III, Section 4 mandates: “every bill shall be considered on three different days in each House.”
To meet this constitutional requirement, the Senate was forced to consider a bill with no details – just a shell to meet the Court’s unreasonable timelines. How unfortunate.
The Court has also stepped on Article IV, Section 15 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which gives the Governor 10 days to sign or veto a bill. Should the General Assembly get him legislation to meet the Court’s timelines, he’ll now have less than 10 days to act.
So, here we are in the quest for fair congressional districts – faced with an unreasonable timeline that doesn’t allow for openness and transparency, no details on how to draw the new lines so as to meet the Court’s expectations, little rationale of how the Court imagines the Constitution was violated or how it will evaluate if any new maps meet its currently secret definition of what’s constitutional and what is not, and the distinct possibility one person will be redrawing District maps.
I want to meet the person who calls this “reform.”