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PA Supreme Court Hears Petitions on Redistricting

Chester County lawyer Sam Stretton argues against the current legislative redistricting plan for West Chester.

HARRISBURG-Chester County lawyer Sam Stretton made his case before the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court Monday to petition the court to overturn the currently approved legislative redistricting plan for West Chester.

Phoenixville is also split in the plan, and to support an appeal of the redistricting, which would take three wards out of the 157th district and place them in the 155th house district.

At Monday's hearing in Harrisburg, Stretton spoke mostly about West Chester.

“It’s a violation of constitutional requirements,” Stretton said. “For 200 years West Chester has almost always been in one district, now the county seat will be placed in a district that is predominately Chester County.”

Under the current plan, West Chester would be split into two separate legislative districts, the 160th and 156th.

Stretton also argued that the new plan disenfranchises minority voters in the borough.

“Thirty percent of the borough’s voters are minority voters,” Stretton said.  “Under this plan, a third of them are moved to south, and the other two-thirds are moved to the north.”

Throughout the morning of testimony, lawyers and judges argued the merits of individual petitions from municipalities as well as a challenge from the State Democratic Senators as a whole.

“A remand [of the current plan] would be healthy,” said Sam Levine, the lawyer representing the senate Democrats. “The commission should provide better justification. There’s a lack of respect for political subdivisions.”

Levine, along with Stretton, argued that the Reappropriation Committee responsible for drawing the legislative map needed to show why they split the “political subdivisions” the way they did.

Political subdivisions include muncipalities like counties, townships and boroughs. Under the state constitution, legislative districts cannot split municipalities unless “absolutely necessary.”

“Legislators do not represent municipalities,” said lawyer Bill Stickman, representing the Reappropriation Committee. “They represent people.”

Judge Joe Del Sole, who also represents the Reappropriation Committee said, “There are no meaningful arguments for compactness or contiguousness. If you overturn the plan, you would undo 40 years of jurisprudence.”

Justice Max Baer asked how the court should define “necessity,” and he said, “What I am hearing is that we can never reverse a plan because we have never reversed a plan.”

Richard A Breuer January 25, 2012 at 04:07 PM
The entity involved is the "Legislative Reapportionment Commission," not the "Reappropriation Committee."
Ken Buckwalter January 25, 2012 at 04:10 PM
It appears that a legal brief filed before the PA Supreme Court on the redistricting issue, sites my case against the Borough (unanimous Supreme Court decision in my favor) as part of their argument: "Although the principle of stare decisis promotes reliance on judicial decisions, it is "not a vehicle for perpetuating error, but rather a legal concept which responds to the demands of justice and, thus, permits the orderly growth processes of the law to flourish." Buckwalter v. Borough of Phoenixville, 985 A.2d 588, 731 (Pa. 2009). Read the brief here: http://www.senatorpileggi.com/PDF/redistricting/Schiffer-Brief.pdf

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