State legislative boundaries still unfair, critics tell Supreme Court

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For the second time this year, creators of the state's updated legislative boundaries are before the state Supreme Court defending how they drafted 253 new House and Senate district lines.

The high court's six justices heard arguments in two of the 13 challenges against those district maps before breaking for lunch. They spent most of their morning session in Philadelphia on the day's marquee case, which seeks to halt the state's new photo-identification requirement for voting.

The day's other cases all pertain to whether state mapmakers still divided too many counties and municipalities in their recasting of legislative boundaries rejected by justices in late January.

In a ruling issued shortly after the 4-3 verdict was announced, a majority of justices wrote that fewer divisions among multiple House and Senate districts could have been achieved. They ordered the five-member Legislative Reapportionment Commission, made up of the four political caucus leaders and a retired state judge, to craft a new version.

The final set, approved in June, still moved two legislative seats -- one House, one Senate -- from the Pittsburgh region east, but also adjusted dividing lines to lessen the number of split communities.

Challengers this morning argued that those involved in drafting the new district maps still gave too much priority to factors such as where incumbents live instead of focusing on keeping towns or municipal wards whole.

An attorney for Amanda Holt, a piano teacher from the Lehigh Valley who crafted alternative maps that helped overturn the first set of commission maps, said Ms. Holt's maps and those from state Senate Democrats prove that fewer divisions were possible.

"As this court directed, the most important factor is whether the raw number difference in subdivison splits is shown to be absolutely necessary," said Virginia Gibson, Ms. Holt's lawyer.

But judges questioned whether the alternative plans perhaps relied too heavily on minimal divisions. Justice Thomas Saylor, a Republican, asked what role partisan breakdown among the districts should play, arguing that a statistically pure plan could potentially flip a chamber in favor of the other party.

Counsel for the reapportionment commission defended the proposal, arguing that it did follow the court's instructions while still working within a governance structure that requires compromise.

"With due respect to Ms. Holt, she didn't need to get another vote" as commission members did to get an approved set of new districts, said Joseph Del Sole, an attorney for the map-drawing commission.

As with the voter ID case, no immediate decision is expected from the top court, which has three Democrats and three Republicans among its six members. breaking - electionspa - state

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


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