We are a team of lawyers, mathematicians, engineers, geographers, GIS experts and other Pennsylvania activists seeking to use Pennsylvania Constitutional law to declare unconstitutional any boundaries of Pennsylvania’s congressional districts resulting from political partisan gerrymandering. Unlike other anti-gerrymandering lawsuits, we would ask the Court to define a neutral set of rules that will make it difficult or impossible for any party or entity to gerrymander U.S. congressional districts. We are exploring this methodology for use against partisan gerrymandering in state redistricting, as well. (See below for specifics.)
Our case(s) would ask the Court to declare any congressional map unlawful under Article I, Sections 1, 2, 3, 20, 25 and 26 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The congressional map is a result of a system of drawing congressional voting districts in a manner that intentionally favors a minority of Republican citizens over and above the wishes, views, thoughts, and desires of a majority of Democratic citizens of the Commonwealth. This problem is compounded by a lax interpretation of rules for drawing Pennsylvania state Senate and House districts in a manner that will ensure a Republican majority in the state House and Senate for the indefinite future.
Our goal is to help create a set of rules for drawing legislative districts in a fair and non-partisan manner, rooted in Pennsylvania Constitutional law.
A Neutral Methodology for Creating Congressional Districts
If we take the criteria from the 1911 Reapportionment Act and the PA Constitution and apply those principles to PA’s Congressional districts, an appropriate non-partisan set of districting rules might initially look something like this:
Congressional districts composed of territory that:
—Is as equal in population as practicable; and
—Has no subdividing of any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward, “unless absolutely necessary.” (See further below.)
However, given the tendency of those drafting Congressional districts to use partisan criteria or partisan proxies for the design of districts, some useful additional guidelines to avoid gerrymandered maps might be as follows. These guidelines are NOT exhaustive, and additional neutral criteria might be considered. In addition, these criteria are based on the assumption that it is legally required to have exactly equal populations in each district (+ or – one person) based on the preceding U.S. Census.
No county shall be divided unless absolutely necessary to create Congressional districts that are “equal in size to the extent reasonably practicable” and then may be divided only as many times as is absolutely necessary to achieve this objective.
No precinct, borough, township, incorporated town, or ward shall be divided unless absolutely necessary to create Congressional districts that are “equal in size to the extent reasonably practicable” and then may be divided only as many times as is absolutely necessary to achieve this objective.
Where additional territory is needed for additional population in a district, it shall be added from the border of a contiguous county and shall move inward only after all of the contiguous territory of the county has first been utilized.
If a county’s population is greater than the average Congressional district size, any additional population may not be added to adjoining counties that have a population greater than that of an average district. Such additional population must instead be added to adjoining counties whose population is smaller than the average district (unless there is no adjoining county which is smaller than an average district).
Districts shall be “reasonably compact”. An appropriate compactness score can be derived by using any of several common measures of geometric compactness, the simplest and most intuitive being the Polsby-Popper, Schwartzberg, and Reock measures. The Legislature might choose to measure the compactness of the Congressional districts from the 1931, 1943, 1951 and 1962 maps to devise a target level of compactness for any new Congressional district map.
A Neutral Methodology for Creating State Legislative Districts
Article 2 Section 16 of the Pennsylvania Constitution states:
§ 16. Legislative districts. The Commonwealth shall be divided into 50 senatorial and 203
representative districts, which shall be composed of compact and
contiguous territory as nearly equal in population as
practicable. Each senatorial district shall elect one Senator,
and each representative district one Representative. Unless
absolutely necessary no county, city, incorporated town,
borough, township or ward shall be divided in forming either a
senatorial or representative district.
(Apr. 23, 1968, P.L.App.3, Prop. No.1)
Step 1: Divide the Commonwealth into 203 House and 50 senatorial districts of roughly equal population using only whole cities, counties, townships, boroughs, towns and wards in a reasonably compact manner. Preference shall be given at this point to avoid the division of counties, cities, townships, boroughs and wards.
At each step, districts shall be assembled in a compact manner.
Step 2: Where territory needs to be added or subtracted larger geographical districts to achieve more equal population districts, one may add or subtract territory at the borders of a whole political subdivision in a linear fashion, layer by layer, using whole precincts or other political subdivisions to achieve more equal population districts.
Note: Territory may not be added to a political subdivision which has a larger population than needed for a legislative district of equal population. Such excess territory must instead be added to an abutting municipality which needs additional population to form a complete district with equal population.
Step 3: After step 2, only one township, borough or ward may be divided along a common border to achieve equal population districts; and then such break shall be in a compact manner assembling precincts or census blocks in a linear or layer by layer manner.
Step 4: Subject to the above rules, districts shall be compact using commonly used mathematical compactness measures (Polsby-Popper, Schwartzberg, and Reock scores). Districts that fail to achieve maximum compactness using these measures shall be rejected as improper.
Step 5: Check to make sure that districts resulting from the above methodology do not violate the Voting Rights Act by inadvertently eliminating minority districts.
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We're blazing the trail for many states with similar constitutional provisions. Gerrymandered districts in Pennsylvania affect the entire country.
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