Montgomery County Commissioners Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards, along with six other public officials and Montgomery County residents, filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Monday contesting the latest reapportionment plan from the state legislature.
The appeal is part of a second round of filing against the 2011 Reapportionment Plan, after the Supreme Court sent back an initial plan in January 2012 following a challenge. At that time, the court ruled that the redistricting plan did not adhere to the state constitution's requirements for compact districts. Many Democratic leaders hailed the decision, stating that the proposal gerrymandered districts in favor of Republican political interests.
A second plan was then presented by the bipartisan Reapportionment Commission and passed by a 4-1 vote on June 8, 2012. The five-member commission comprises Sen. Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi; Sen. Democratic Leader Jay Costa; State House Majority Leader Mike Turzai; State House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody; and chairman Stephen McEwen, Jr.
The state legislature goes through a redistricting process every 10 years.
Shapiro accuses Republicans of gerrymandering
In a press release, Shapiro said the new proposal still splits districts for political reasons.
"These splits were clearly designed to give Republicans an advantage at the polls -- not to comply with a constitutional directive," Shapiro said. "This overt gerrymandering should again be struck down by the high court."
Shapiro said he is particularly concerned about district lines in Montgomery County.
"Based on our population, Montgomery County should be apportioned three whole Senate seats, and a portion of a fourth," Shapiro said. "Instead, the plan splits our county into six state Senate districts -- none of which is wholly contained within Montgomery County."
State Senator Daylin Leach, Upper Dublin Commissioner Ira Tackel, Chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee Marcel Groen, Lower Merion Treasurer Samuel Adenbaum, and Montgomery County residents Harvey Glickman and David Dormont also joined in on the appeal.
According to the appeal, Leach testified before the reapportionment commission that he believed there was "blatant partisan gerrymandering," in the plan, which he believes "did damage to the many communities across the state."
Shapiro's attorney explains the appeal
Regardless of the outcome, Adam Bonin, a Philadelphia-based attorney representing the petitioners, said the new redistricting maps would take not take effect until after the 2012 general elections.
“We’re saying, given the timing, [the redistricting] would not be in place until the 2014 election,” Bonin said. “There’s no reason to rush this.”
Bonin filed the appeal on the last day of a 30-day window following the second plan’s approval in June.
“I think whenever you file a lawsuit you have to be careful in what you do — really consider what’s happening and talk to your clients — and not file suit unless you need to.”
Bonin said he doesn’t think the appeal will linger in Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He added that Sen. Costa proposed a map that would be “constitutionally friendly.”
“There are ways to do this better which are both Constitutional and not blatantly partisan,” Bonin said. “The idea is to have competitive elections.”
However, the alternative presented by Sen. Costa, which was struck down by the commission on June 8 by a 3-2 vote, still contained the same number of districts in Montgomery County as the current proposal. According to a map obtained by politicspa.com, the 12th district would be entirely contained in the county, while the rest would be split between the 44th, 17th, 24th, 4th and 3rd districts.
Others file appeals, Sen. Pileggi's office responds
Shapiro and the other seven petitioners aren’t the only ones appealing the latest reapportionment plan.
According to politicspa.com, the group Latino Justice filed an appeal against the Legislative Reapportionment Commission last week. The same site said Chuck Pascal, an attorney and former member of Democratic State Committee, also filed a petition for review of the LRC’s final plan Monday afternoon.
Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senator Pileggi, told Patch that the currently proposed plan improves Montgomery County's Senate districts.
"Under the existing plan, approved in 2001-02, Montgomery County is divided into eight Senate districts. The Commission's previous plan, remanded by the Supreme Court, split Montgomery County into seven Senate districts," Arneson said. "The revised final plan...splits Montgomery County into just six Senate districts. Clearly, the commission has taken the Court's direction to reduce the number of split political subdivisions very seriously."
Under the presently existing districts created in 2001, Montgomery County is split between Senate districts 4, 7, 10, 12, 17, 19, 24 and 44. The remanded 2011 proposal removed district 19 and added its municipalities to the 44th district, while the updated proposal would also remove district 10's tiny incursion from Bucks County into Souderton and Telford and add those municipalities to the 12th district.