Pa. House Speaker files suit against secretary of state over reapportionment plan

By Jon Campisi | Feb 3, 2012

The speaker of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the secretary of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania seeking to have legislative districts that were drawn up in 2001 declared unconstitutional and therefore unusable.

The lawsuit, which was filed earlier this week at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by Philadelphia attorneys James J. Rohn and Matthew H. Haverstick on behalf of state Rep. Sam Smith, alleges that the Legislative Reapportionment Plan that was adopted a decade ago violates the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions.

The defendant named in the lawsuit is Carol Aichele, who is being sued in her capacity as Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The lawsuit comes shortly after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated a legislative redistricting plan for 2012.

The new plan, which had been pushed by a Republican majority in the legislature, was knocked down as unconstitutional by the high court.

The Supreme Court hasn’t yet issued a full opinion spelling out how it came to its ruling, the first time the high court has scrapped a legislative redistricting plan since 1968, the year the commonwealth’s constitution was revised.

Smith, a Republican, says in his lawsuit that because of the time constraints relating to Pennsylvania’s upcoming 2012 elections, and in light of the Supreme Court’s Jan. 25 ruling, the 2001 Legislative Reapportionment Plan will likely be used in this year’s elected contests.

The problem, the lawsuit states, is that the commonwealth has seen population changes since the 2001 plan’s adoption, which would essentially mean that that plan would be unconstitutional by today’s standards.

“Use of the 2001 Legislative Reapportionment Plan in any future elections would violate the voting rights of Pennsylvania citizens,” the lawsuit states. “The 2001 Legislative Reapportionment Plan was based on 2000 year census data, and is no longer acceptable because 2010 census documents show that the populations for the current legislative districts vary widely due to population shifts over the last decade.”

The lawsuit claims that holding elections under the 2001 political boundaries would “unfairly increase the value of certain Pennsylvania voters’ ballots in districts with large population declines at the expense of diluting the votes of other Pennsylvania voters from districts with large population increases.”

The Supreme Court’s Jan. 25 ruling invalidating the 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Plan ordered the 2001 redistricting plan to remain in effect “without many any determination whether the 2001 Legislative Reapportionment Plan meets constitutional requirements based on the 2010 census,” the lawsuit states.

The new 2012 reapportionment plan had caught the ire of some Democrats in the legislature, who claimed Republicans were creating districts based not on the good of the electorate, but to advance their own agendas.

A lawsuit was soon filed, followed by the high court’s ruling that the new legislative maps were, indeed, faulty and must be redrawn.

The Supreme Court’s ruling continues to worry some legislative observers who claim would-be lawmakers in the midst of campaigning will now have to suspend their runs for elected office given the fact that they might be running in a district that won’t exist.

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