DeLissio: Pa. Supreme Court tilt should not lead to familiar redistricting hijinks

PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 6 – Following this week’s election in Pennsylvania, which saw three new Democratic judges voted to the state Supreme Court, state Rep. Pamela A. DeLissio, D-Montgomery/Phila., wants to ensure that the pendulum of redistricting power does not swing into any one party’s favor.

“As a state legislator I am very familiar with the redistricting process, and my first thought is to remain hopeful that the new majority of Democratic judges helps legislative majorities break from what has become the unfortunate tradition of gerrymandering our state Senate and House districts in Pennsylvania,” she said.

When Tuesday’s election results are certified, Pennsylvania will have five Democratic judges on the Supreme Court, to two Republicans. The state Supreme Court historically wields great influence on the approval of redistricted legislative maps that are updated each decade in concert with the U.S. Census.

“In a perfect world, all politics would be removed from redistricting and a number of legislative initiatives have been proposed to accomplish just that,” DeLissio said, “but as we’ve seen in sessions past, this legislation does not even get a hearing let alone a vote. Many could argue successfully that there are few remaining politically competitive districts across Pennsylvania and that the lack of fairly drawn districts is eroding the political process in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C.

“Constituents are left with statewide and national gridlock, as evidenced by our own state budget impasse.

“They say that with great power comes great responsibility, and I hope we see a new kind of accountability to Pennsylvanians from this very promising group of judges. I, for one, am a strong advocate for the formation of a nonpartisan independent redistricting commission, which would correct the practice of gerrymandering. Such a meaningful change could produce a very different atmosphere in Harrisburg.”  

She added, "To fix the process would be a ‘heavy lift,’ as it requires amending the state constitution, and because the legislators, some of whom have a vested interest in not changing the process, will need to be pressured by their constituents to do the right thing."

Short of that type of legislation becoming law before the next census in 2020 – followed by redistricting in 2021 – DeLissio said that Pennsylvania will need to rely on its Supreme Court to ensure that the newly drawn districts are indeed compact, contiguous and keep communities whole.

DeLissio said she believes that communities are best represented when their needs can be addressed by keeping communities and neighborhoods within a single district. Districts that maintain the continuity of these communities of interest result in more accountable and responsive legislators, who can better meet the needs of their constituents, she said.

State House districts include about 60,000 people; state Senate districts include about 250,000 people.

DeLissio said that the most recent redistricting plan was driven by politics to the detriment of citizens. She said she has discussed redistricting at many of her 51 town halls over the past five years because of how integral it is to the development and passage of public policy for the greater good, versus simply "politically expedient" decisions favorable to special-interest groups that influence the process with significant campaign contributions.

“The votes we legislators cast should always connect back to a truly representative constituency formed from the fairest of processes,” she said.