House Speaker sues to stop use of 2001 legislative district maps

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's stunning decision to toss the newly-drawn legislative district maps has prompted a law suit by a top GOP leader.

House Speaker Sam Smith (R., Jefferson) filed a federal lawsuit to halt the use of the 2001 legislative district maps in this year's special elections, calling them unconstitutional.

Smith in a suit against Carol Aichele, the secretary of the commonwealth, claims the old boundaries would "violate the voting rights of Pennsylvania citizens" because they are based on the 2000 census and districts have shifted since then.

"It is the Speaker's job to issue a writ of special election and in reading the order regarding 2001 lines he believes the 2001 lines are clearly unconstitutional," said Smith's spokesman Steve Miskin. "He is trying to get a determination as quickly as possible."

In December the five-member Legislative Reapportionment Commission approved GOP-drawn House and Senate district maps based on the 2010 census. But the plan was challenged by multiple parties - most of them Democratic - who alleged they unnecessarily split municipalities.

Last week the Supreme Court appeared to agree, throwing out the plan based on the 2010 census and directed that the 2001 lines remain in effect. But it left wide open the question of how the matter would be resolved. A full opinion has yet to be released but Justice Max Baer told a news service the 2001 lines will be used this year, touching off a new round of furor over the court's ruling as nominating petitions were being circulated for districts that no longer exist.

Supreme Court Justice Max Baer told a news service that the 2001 lines will be used this year, touching off a new round of furor over the court's ruling as nominating petitions are circulating for districts that do not exist.

The House has six vacancies, four of them in the Philadelphia area. They are the 169th District House seat in Northeast Philadelphia, which was held by Dennis O'Brien, the 186th District House seat in South Philadelphia, held by Kenyatta Johnson, the 197th District House seat in North Philadelphia held by Jewell Williams and the 153rd in Montgomery County, held by Josh Shapiro.

O'Brien and Johnson took seats on the Philadelphia City Council. Williams was elected Philadelphia Sheriff and Shapiro was elected a Montgomery County Commissioner.

Under the new map the 169th district was to move to York County because of population shifts and the old O'Brien district was to be divvied up among neighboring House districts.

But all that is up in the air for now.

Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) called the lawsuit "frivolous" and urged Smith to work toward drafting "bipartisan, non-gerrymandered maps" for the 2014 election.

"Speaker Smith has filed suit which, if successful, would force a rushed reapportionment without proper deliberation and input and the obviating of the will of the voters who are this very day signing petitions to put candidates they prefer on the ballot in their current districts," said Leach in a statement.



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