House speaker files suit to halt elections

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HARRISBURG -- The Republican Speaker of the state House of Representatives has filed a suit in federal court, seeking to prevent elections this year from being held under what he argues are now-unconstitutional boundaries set in 2001.

The suit, filed Monday in Philadelphia, is one result of the confusion created last week when the state Supreme Court declared that newly drawn legislative maps, based on the 2010 census data, could not be used.

The state's top court ordered that the current districts remain in effect and the new maps must be redrawn, but has yet to release an opinion explaining the problems with those new boundary lines.

Meanwhile, candidates have begun to circulate petitions for this year's elections, despite a lack of clarity over the districts in which they will run.

Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, argued in the lawsuit against Carol Aichele, secretary of the commonwealth, that elections under the 2001 legislative maps would violate the Constitution due to the population shifts since they were crafted.

Part of the urgency arises from the six currently vacant legislative seats, including one in Pittsburgh's South Hills previously held by Democratic former Rep. Chelsa Wagner. Mr. Smith, who as speaker is required to promptly announce elections for empty seats, is asking the court for permission to not hold special elections for those districts under the decade-old map.

"Without this remedy, the speaker would be required to perform a constitutional duty, issuing writs for special elections to fill vacancies in the House, in districts that do not meet constitutional requirements for elections," according to Mr. Smith's lawsuit.


Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254.


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