Court upholds redrawn maps for Legislature

HARRISBURG (AP) – A revised plan to redraw the boundaries of Pennsylvania’s legislative districts won the unanimous approval Wednesday of the state Supreme Court, which rejected renewed appeals by citizen challengers and Democrats who argued the plan, like the previous version, was driven by political considerations and did not meet constitutional guidelines.

The court’s three Republican and three Democratic justices ruled that the new maps are constitutional, even if they do take political considerations into account, and can take effect for Pennsylvania’s 203 House districts and 50 Senate districts beginning with the 2014 elections.

In its decision, the court effectively forced the maps’ architects to reduce the number of counties and municipalities that are split among legislative districts, although this map allows a slightly larger deviation in population between districts than the plan the court rejected last year.

In general, a handful of new districts will appear in areas with relatively fast-growing populations while the maps take pains to keep in place existing district lines and protect the Legislature’s Republican control. Two Democratic senators also likely to face difficult re-election challenges.

Chief Justice Ronald Castille said in the 59-page opinion that the court’s review of the maps “discloses no overt instances of bizarrely shaped districts” that would confirm allegations that the maps’ architects drew the boundaries in a political exercise designed to group certain voter blocs and maximize a partisan outcome.

The court’s action came after it had ruled 4-to-3 last year to reject the maps drawn by the five-member commission of top lawmakers – two Democrats and two Republicans – and a former judge, who is a Republican appointed by the Supreme Court.

In rejecting the Legislative Reapportionment Commission’s original plans in 2012, it agreed with challengers that political considerations had unduly split municipalities and produced strangely shaped districts. As a result, last year’s legislative elections were based on maps drawn in 2001.

Many of those who successfully challenged those maps lodged the same complaints about the redrawn maps. But the reapportionment commission’s lawyers argued that they had met the court’s standards because they reduced the number of split counties and municipalities and created districts with more compact shapes.