Pennsylvania House Speaker Files Federal Suit Over Old District Maps

Jan 31, 2012

Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Sam Smith has asked a federal judge to rule that district maps from a decade ago no longer be used for elections.

"He believes, as do others, that the 2001 legislative lines are out of whack and are unconstitutional, and violate the one person, one vote standard," said Smith Spokesperson Steve Miskin.

For example, Miskin said, former Representative Doug Reichley's district in Lehigh/Berks County has a population of 78,000 and Representative Joseph Preston in Allegheny County has 51,000, which, he added, is almost a half-district disparity.

Because of population shifts, district maps have to be redrawn, but the plan approved by the Legislative Reapportionment Committee has been rejected by the state Supreme Court. But, Smith maintains the old maps can't be used. As speaker, he has to schedule special House elections, but is concerned that if action isn't taken soon, candidates for six vacant seats will take legal action of their own.

"There's a possibility that there may be a mandamus action, filing suit aimed at forcing [Smith] to declare a writ of election sooner rather than later using what he believes are unconstitutional boundaries, and he just thinks that's absolutely wrong," said Miskin.

Smith filed suit against Secretary of State Carol Aichele in Philadelphia federal court on Monday. The state Supreme Court has not yet released a written opinion to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, and Miskin said that will be a critical next step.

"We believe that if the court issues its opinion sooner rather than later, the commission can get to work. The commission is ready to get to work right now and get these lines drawn to meet whatever standards the court deems necessary," he said, "but to get to work we've got to get that information from the court."