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August 6, 2012 | By | Posted in Legislature

Supremes to hear challenges to new House, Senate district maps

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the challenges to revised state legislative district maps on Sept. 13 in Philadelphia.

The court in January rejected proposed new maps for the state House’s 203 legislative districts and the state Senate’s 50 districts.  The court instructed the Legislative Reapportionment Commission to redraw the maps with fewer counties and municipalities split between legislative districts.

The commission redrew the maps and approved them in June with Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, casting the sole opposing vote.

The revised maps contain about 50 percent fewer splits, but doubled the deviation in population between districts — which is the difference in population from the largest district to the smallest — another component of the state constitution’s formula for drawing districts.

A total of 13 challenges have been filed against the revised maps, including one from Amanda Holt, the amateur cartographer from Allentown, whose maps formed the basis for the Supreme Court’s decision to reject the commission’s first proposal earlier this year. All appeals can be viewed here.

Last month, she told PA Independent that the revised maps were not aligned with the constitutional requirements for new districts, prompting her to continue challenging them. Holt said the revised maps still contain more county and municipal splits than necessary. 

Christopher Borick, a professor of political science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, said the case was setting new standards for “how messy” the legislative redistricting process had become in an era of partisan districts at all levels.

But he was skeptical that any changes would be made.

As long as we make this a consummately partisan and political exercise where the Legislature itself is controlled the process, we can anticipate these kinds of outcomes and making this the new normal of the process of drawing legislative lines,” he said.

The hearing will begin at 9:30 in the Supreme Court’s chambers inside Philadelphia City Hall.

The revised state Senate plan will face the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Sept. 13.

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Eric Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com or at (717) 350-0963.

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