Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Get Rid of Gerrymandered Congressional Districts, Lawsuit Demands

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Get Rid of Gerrymandered Congressional Districts, Lawsuit Demands

Article excerpt

Calling partisan gerrymandering "one of the greatest threats to American democracy," the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit Thursday in Commonwealth Court, asking that the state's congressional district map be thrown out.

Future maps, the lawsuit urges, should be drawn without "burdening or penalizing an identifiable group, a political party, or individual voters based on their political beliefs."

Filed on behalf of Democratic voters in each of the state's 18 congressional districts, the complaint argues that the map, drafted in 2011, "was the product of a national movement by the Republican Party to entrench its own representatives in power." They did so, it argues, by "utilizing the latest advances in mapmaking technologies and big data to gerrymander districts more effectively than ever before."

At a news conference Thursday in Harrisburg, lawyers involved in the case said both parties engage in gerrymandering, the drawing of district boundaries to maximize political advantage. But they contended that a Republican-controlled Legislature created nakedly partisan maps allowing the GOP to win 13 of 18 seats - nearly three-quarters of the state congressional delegation - while winning only about half of the ballots cast overall.

"The map is basically unresponsive to the will of the people," said David P. Gersch, senior counsel at the Washington, D.C., law firm of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer. "When the Democrats are doing well, they get five seats; when the Democrats are doing poorly they get five seats. It's the same."

Bill Marx, a high school civics teacher from Delmont who attended the event, said, "I have to teach the ideal in class and then show you, 'This is how it's messed up.'"

Mr. Marx lives in Republican Keith Rothfus' 12th Congressional District, which stretches from Johnstown to the Ohio border.

"The needs that I have living in Delmont are different than the needs of where I used to live in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, and are different than Beaver County itself," he said. "There isn't a sense of 'this is our community, our congressman understands us.'"

Congressional districts are drawn by state legislators, who adopt a map as legislation and forward it to the governor, as with any other bill. After the 2010 election, Republicans controlled the governor's mansion and both chambers of the Legislature, giving them free rein.

Some of the resulting districts, including the 12th, have drawn national scrutiny. The New York-based Brennan Center for Justice listed Pennsylvania among three states whose maps "have the most extreme levels of partisan bias."

The suit names state election officials, legislative leaders, and Gov. Tom Wolf as defendants.

"Gov. Wolf believes the redistricting process should be fair and transparent," his office said in a statement. …

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