Latino voters sue Commonwealth over legislative reapportionment plan

By Jon Campisi | Feb 6, 2012

Three Latino voters have filed a federal lawsuit against the secretary of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission seeking a court order to ensure the defendants will enact a new legislative redistricting plan in time for the upcoming election season.

The complaint, filed Feb. 2 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by Philadelphia attorney Jose Luis Ongay and New York attorney Juan Cartagena, comes on the heels of an unexpected recent state Supreme Court decision that invalidated the state legislature’s recently drawn-up new legislative district maps.

States are required to draw up new maps every 10 years following the release of new census figures.

Pennsylvania’s House speaker filed his own lawsuit against Carol Aichele, the secretary of the commonwealth, just days ago, alleging the previous reapportionment plan, the one from 2001, that is now being used in default following the high court’s ruling, is unconstitutional.

That lawsuit was also filed in federal court in Philadelphia.

The newest lawsuit was filed on behalf of plaintiffs Joe Garcia, Fernando Quiles and Dalia Rivera Matias. Garcia and Quiles live in Philadelphia while Matias resides in Allentown, Pa.

The complaint states that upon being made aware of the recent developments with regard to the redistricting process, the plaintiffs came to the realization that the new maps, as proposed, would result in “no new, equalized plans for redistricting in time for the elections this year and thus seek this Court’s protection of their constitutional rights to vote for legislative representatives under a new plan that does not violate the ‘one person, one vote’ principle” of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and does not “unlawfully dilute their voting strength” under the Voting Rights Act.

In addition to seeking a court order mandating that a new redistricting plan be adopted in time for this year’s April primary and November general election, the plaintiffs seek a court order appointing a special master to oversee the state redistricting process to ensure that their rights under federal law are protected inasmuch as the current plan, enacted in 2001, is both “malapportioned and unlawfully dilutes the voting strength of Latinos.”

The lawsuit claims that the 2010 Census revealed a “tremendous” increase in the number of Latinos residing in Pennsylvania.

Nearly four out of 10 Latinos reside in Philadelphia, where they account for more than 12 percent of the city’s population, the suit states.

“With this population growth, Latinos are increasingly participating in the electoral franchise,” the lawsuit states.

Furthermore, the lawsuit states that there is currently only one majority Latino district in the state House, the 180th District in Philadelphia. There are no majority Latino Senate districts in the state.

There is only one Latino elected official, state Rep. Angel Cruz, who represents the 180th Legislative District, according to the complaint.

“Despite rapid Latino population growth in the Commonwealth over the past decade, and increasing numbers of Latino registered voters, Latino political representation has not increased at an equivalent pace,” the lawsuit states.

The suit goes on to state that the 2001 Legislative Reapportionment Plan “interacts with social and historical conditions to cause an inequality in the opportunity of Latino voters to elect representatives of their choice.”

The federal case number is 2:12-cv-00556-RBS.

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