Holt II Decision in Review Part 3: The Puzzlers Continued

29.Jul.2013by Amanda in Redistricting· 0 comments

Yesterday we began to look at some of the more puzzling aspects of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision, specifically remarks on district compactness. Today we continue our review by turning to the area of subdivision splits in the majority opinion.

Subdivision Splits

And there are other puzzlers, but first a little comparison. In the first decision (regarding the Remanded maps), the majority opinion said:

Indeed, the proof is strong enough that we view it as inconceivable, to borrow from one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s equal protection decisions, that the magnitude of the subdivision splits here was unavoidable. . . . the 2011 [Remanded] Final Plan is contrary to law premised on the existence of a significant number of political subdivision splits that were not absolutely necessary . . . .  (Majority opinion page 78, emphasis added)

In the second decision (regarding the Revised maps), the majority opinion said:

Viewed in raw terms (and not merely in comparison with other plans), the 2012 [Revised] Final Plan has few raw splits when viewed in comparison to the total number of counties, municipalities and wards in the Commonwealth. . . . We agree with the LRC that the number of splits, over and above those numbers which would be inevitable even in the absence of other constitutional factors, is remarkably small(Page 54, emphasis added)

Notice the contrasting words used in each opinion regarding splits:

  • In the Remanded Plan (first time) – “magnitude” and “significant”
  • In the Revised Plan (second time) – “few” and “remarkably small”

With such a strong difference in the terms used, we would expect to find an equally strong difference when comparing the splits in the Remanded (first) Plan and the Revised (second) Plan.

As we do the comparison, it should be remembered that the population deviation doubled (that is the difference between the most and least populated district). In the Senate it went from approx. 4% to 8%. In the House it when from approx. 6% to 8%. Allowing a larger population difference between the largest and smallest district naturally permits the elimination of certain splits. Lancaster County provides an excellent illustration of this point. The 4% deviation required it to be split into 3 districts, while the 8% deviation only required it to be split between 2 districts.

Raw Numbers

So let’s do a before and after comparison to see this supposedly drastic improvement, “viewed in raw terms”. We’ll start with the Senate.

Senate Splits Counties Municipalities Wards
In Remanded Senate 28 out of 67 4 out of 2563 26 out of 4462
In Revised Senate 25 out of 67 2 out of 2563 10 out of 4462
In Holt Original Senate 21 out of 67 2 out of 2563 4 out of 4462
In Holt Revised Senate 15 out of 67 2 out of 2563 0 out of 4462

Comparing these “raw” numbers, there does not seem to be much difference between the LRC’s Remanded (first) Plan and Revised (second) Plan. 28 and 25 or 4 and 2 do not seem all that different in this context. If 28 out of 67 is “significant”, then it seems that 25 out of 67 might be as well. Compared to the evidence presented, any possible view of “remarkably small” number of splits vanishes.

Now let’s look at the House in “raw numbers”.

House Splits Counties Municipalities Wards
In Remanded 52 out of 67 108 out of 2563 130 out of 4462
In Revised 50 out of 67 68 out of 2563 103 out of 4462
In Holt Original 45 out of 67 27 out of 2563 34 out of 4462
In Holt Revised 44 out of 67 17 out of 2563 25 out of 4462

Once again, the difference does not seem all that striking. Where is the significant difference between 52 and 50? Or 130 and 103? Add in a comparison to the Holt evidence, and any idea that the number of splits is “remarkably small” is dispelled.

Beyond the Baseline: Splits

The second decision also makes reference to the baseline – the number of splits required by population considerations alone. As further proof of the constitutional nature of the splits present in the LRC’s Revised Plan, the decision notes that the number of splits beyond the baseline is “remarkably small”. As a reminder, here is what the majority wrote in the second decision:

In the House, the 2012 Final Plan splits 50 out of 67 counties (many of those splits being inevitable based on population alone) . . . . . We agree with the LRC that the number of splits, over and above those numbers which would be inevitable even in the absence of other constitutional factors, is remarkably small. (page 54)

So how many county splits were inevitable based on population considerations alone in House districts? The LRC claimed the split county baseline was at 40 (that was accurate in the first round, but the baseline was actually at 39 in the second round that resulted in the Revised Plan). So the Revised (second) Plan exceeded the baseline by 11, and the Remanded (first) plan exceeded it by 12. That is a difference of 1 split for those following along at home.

The first plan was considered overwhelming unconstitutional based on splits. So then the difference of one (1) would hardly seem worth mentioning or emphasizing. The inconsistent logic makes this yet another puzzler.

Beyond the Baseline: Total Splits

The inconsistencies grow even more perplexing when comparing both splits and total splits beyond the baseline between the two plans and the Holt evidence presented. Let’s start with the House.

Baseline in House (splits / “total splits”) Counties
39 / 165
Municipalities
8 / 32
Wards
0 / 0
Splits Beyond In Remanded House 12 / 66 100 /131 130 / 169
Splits Beyond In Revised House 11 / 56 60 /83 103 / 122
Splits Beyond In Holt Original House 5 / 18 19 / 25 34 / 37
Splits Beyond In Holt Revised House 5 / 18 9 / 15 25 / 28

Even just comparing the split and total split counts between the two different LRC plans, it is difficult to find the striking difference that made one plan contain a “magnitude” of splits, while in the other plan they were just “remarkably small”. This is equally true in the Senate portion of each plan.

Baseline in Senate (splits / “total splits”) Counties
15 / 26
Municipalities
2 / 8
Wards
0 / 0
Splits Beyond In Remanded Senate 13 / 39 2 /2 26 / 32
Splits Beyond In Revised Senate 10 / 27 0 /2 10 / 20
Splits Beyond In Holt Original Senate 6 / 8 0 / 0 4 / 4
Splits Beyond In Holt Revised Senate 0 /   3 0 / 0 0 / 0

Notice the county “total splits” baseline in the Senate is 26. The LRC doubled this required number (26) by adding another 27 of their own (26+27=53 total splits).  In the real world, doubling the size of something is not considered “remarkably small”. Common sense makes this a bit puzzling.

Doing the Right Thing

The continuation of these puzzlers demonstrates that the heart of the redistricting disagreement remains unresolved. While Justices have come and gone, the people of Pennsylvania have consistently complained that districts drawn under the LRC contain too many splits. Doing the right thing requires courage. It remains to be seen if the future LRC will have the courage to do the right thing in 2020 or if self-preservation will prevail over constitutional preeminence.

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