In Malapportionment Claims, Its All About Timing and Context

The 2010 census brought good news to Latinos in Pennsylvania. Significant gains where made the Latino population in the Philadelphia area and other regions of the state. This would mean increased representation in the state legislature. Imagine the disappointment when the state elections were held in 2012 under the 2001 reapportionment map. The Legislative Reapportionment Commission had convened and drawn a new state legislative map in 2011, but the state Supreme Court found it constitutionally lacking. With no redistricted map in place, the court allowed the 2001 map to be used for the 2012 state elections.


Some Latino groups found this to be an unacceptable; one equivalent to gerrymandering, since the new election would solidify representation that bore no resemblance to the dramatic gains the Hispanic population had made since 2001. Case in point, under the 2001 map in the Philadelphia area, Latinos made up a majority in one house district. Population gains since then would easily give it two. By holding the 2012 election under the old, malapportioned map, many Latinos felt unjustly pinned in to a representation scheme no longer beneficial to them. They filed suit in federal court to halt the 2012 election unsuccessfully.


Finding no success with halting the election, those same plaintiffs filed a motion to shorten the term of representatives elected under the malapportioned plan and order new elections under a properly reapportioned plan in 2013. On February 8, 2012 the court denied the request and in the process, touched on the nuances of when delaying the redistricting chore is acceptable and when it is not.


Reynolds v. Simms clearly set the minimum standard for when a jurisdiction needs to redistrict by pointing to the decennial U.S. census as the appropriate signal for rebalancing districts. This begs the question of just how much time is allowable between receipt of the official census data and completion of a map. Noting that several years is generally too long a wait, the court cited a “reasonableness” standard for deciding when foot-dragging amounts to an Equal Protection Clause or Voting Rights Act violation. That standard originates from the following passage in Reynolds:


“In substance, we do not regard the Equal Protection Clause as requiring daily, monthly, annual or biennial reapportionment, so long as a State has a reasonably conceived plan for periodic readjustment of legislative representation.”


Thus, when elections are held on an outdated map in the year (or two) after new census data is released, courts generally see inequity only when no redistricting map is in sight- as is the case when legislatures hopelessly deadlock on approving a map or when reapportionment commissions fail to proceed. In Pennsylvania’s case, a commission produced maps, but were required to redraw them after a state court found state constitutional deficiencies. This is the normal ebb and flow of redistricting in many states, and most certainly part of the “reasonable” plan for redistricting.


Choosing not to disrupt the results of the 2012 election, the court stated, “we see no need to disturb the settled expectations of both voters and elected officials by ordering the requested special election.”


Pennsylvania’s Legislative Reapportionment Commission redrew its maps in June 2012, which were subsequently challenged in the state supreme court. Oral arguments were held in September 2012 and a final decision is expected soon.

Categories: Law, Lawsuits, malapportionment, Redistricting, Uncategorized


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