Thursday February 15, 2018
This process should be taken out of the political realm and handed off to a nonpartisan commission.
As much as we dislike the congressional district maps Pennsylvania has been using since 2012, we abhor the chaos the state Supreme Court has caused in its all too hasty effort to change them.
The court ruled in mid-January that the current maps, drawn when Republicans had full control of the legislative and executive branches in Harrisburg, was designed to favor GOP candidates and thus violated the state constitution. The Democratic majority on the court said they would develop legislative maps on their own unless the state Legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf reached an agreement on new district lines by Monday.
Instead of attempting to move a plan for new maps through the General Assembly, leaders of the state House and Senate developed new maps on their own and submitted them to Wolf late last week. Predictably, the governor rejected them on the grounds that they still favored Republicans.
Now the state has a big mess on its hands. The fundamental problem is that while the members of the court majority may see themselves as neutral arbiters making a decision based on the law, many others do not. The state Supreme Court has a Democratic majority, and its misguided, ill-timed ruling ordering the new maps was handed down based on a party-line vote. Midterm elections are coming up, and Democrats have high hopes of taking control of the U.S. House. Altering the lines now could change the balance of power in Washington. It's no wonder the motives of everyone involved are being questioned.
We're dismayed by this turn of events because there are very good, nonpartisan arguments against the current district lines and the system used to create them. Our congressional districts are unwieldy and unnecessarily divide communities, most notably our own here in Berks County. And yes, a state that's close to evenly divided politically should not have one party holding a 13-5 advantage in congressional seats.
But the answer to this is not a court-ordered change to the lines, it's a new redistricting system that puts the process in the hands of a nonpartisan commission rather than political power brokers in Harrisburg. The situation the state faces now should be the impetus to get lawmakers to finally move on SB22 and HB22, which would achieve that goal. That legislation has been stalled for far too long. The time to act is now.
But while that legislation would fix the problem in the long term, it won't help address the crisis facing the state right now.
We urge Wolf and GOP leaders to make a good-faith effort to negotiate maps that both parties can accept. If that can be achieved by Monday's deadline, we would applaud it. If they need more time, they should ask the court to delay the primary by no longer than one month. The alternative, we fear, is court-ordered maps that lead to a new set of legal challenges by Republicans and more uncertainty for candidates and voters. This dispute is likely to lead to a further erosion of trust in our courts and our election system. Taking redistricting out of the political realm offers the chance of restoring that trust.
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