Holt II Decision in Review Part 2: The Puzzlers


Having examined some of the more positive aspects of the second decision, we now turn our attention to aspects of the majority opinion that are a bit puzzling – specifically some remarks on subdivision splits and district compactness.

Today we will look at the compactness, and tomorrow the subdivision splits.

District Compactness

I wonder how many zig-zag districts it takes before the quantity of them raises a judicial red flag.

Furthermore, our independent review of the LRC’s Senate and House maps discloses no overt instances of bizarrely shaped districts, bespeaking (as appellants allege) only an intent to gather together certain targeted blocs of voters. (Majority Opinion, page 58)

Our definition of “bizarrely shaped” must be different. Senate District 30 and 48 seem pretty bizarre in the LRC’s Revised Plan. There are too many oddly shaped House Districts to mention, but take a look at the cities in particular for an abundance of examples. This is without any comparison to other maps. Comparing the districts of the Revised (second) Plan and Holt II evidence, the shapes of even more districts in the Revised Plan take on bizarre proportions.

Collecting Voters

It is also interesting logic that the Revised districts were not drawn with the intent to collect certain voters into certain districts. If subdivision splits and other constitutional criteria do not matter, then the only meaningful difference between the LRC’s Revised (second) Plan and the Holt II evidence is the voters contained within the districts. As the LRC worked hard to intentionally keep the public in the dark about why these voters needed to be in certain districts, we can only guess to the reasons behind their selections.

Add to this that the LRC even admitted that legitimate constitutional considerations (those outlined in Section 16) were placed on equal footing with political compromise and prior district cores. (I might add that those cores came from 2001 districts that the Court stated obviously pushed constitutional limits, and that was without any statewide alternate map evidence).

. . . the LRC premising so much of its argument upon the notion that preservation of the cores of prior districts, and protecting incumbents and the current political makeup of the General Assembly, are concerns requiring constitutional accommodation in the formulation of a new map. (page 53)

This means that the LRC drew maps with a faulty constitutional perspective. By their own admission they not only drew maps with the intent to preserve cores and achieve political compromise but put those priorities on the same level as constitutional parameters. In practice, this means they put certain groups of voters in certain districts for reasons outside the constitution.

This practice is allowable, as long as the resulting districts do not violate Article II, Section 16 of Pennsylvania’s Constitution. In the strongest terms, our constitution prioritizes not splitting political subdivisions. They are all to be left whole, unless other constitutional criteria necessitate a division.

The evidence presented in Holt II clearly demonstrated that no constitutional justification was present for the LRC drawn district boundaries. With constitutional cause for dividing subdivisions off the table, there remains by default only non-constitutional reasons left for the additional divisions. Since our constitution is to come first, these additional divisions are not constitutional.

Review what the majority opinion said again:

Furthermore, our independent review of the LRC’s Senate and House maps discloses no overt instances of bizarrely shaped districts, bespeaking (as appellants allege) only an intent to gather together certain targeted blocs of voters. (page 58)

We have established no constitutional cause for numerous splits under the LRC’s plan. By this deduction we find the only one possible explanation remaining for their plethora of splits: the selection of voters/people – whether it stemmed from political considerations or the desire to preserve prior district boundaries.

The LRC came close to admitting as much in their response brief, when they said:

The Commission does not dispute that the Holt alternative plan has fewer splits than the 2012 [Revised] Final Plan. It is inevitable that a privately produced alternative plan can always have fewer splits than a plan produced by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. (Brief Of Respondent page 49)

. . . [the LRC] must engage in compromise in order to muster sufficient votes to pass a plan. It is not an exaggeration that some elements of a reapportionment plan, including elements which may result in splits, are “absolutely necessary” in order to create a plan that can receive at least three votes. (Brief Of Respondent page 49-50)

In short, they had to make splits to achieve compromise between party leaders. People were merely pawns in political negotiations for the balance of power.

Tomorrow we will look at the other aspect of the decision that is puzzling – specifically some remarks on subdivision splits.

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