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Withdrawing Support for Redistricting Bill

March 5, 2018

I was an early supporter of the premise of House Bill 722, during both this legislative session and the previous session, my first as a member of the General Assembly. Withdrawing my support of this bill does not come lightly. Rather, it is a result of further careful consideration and my observance of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's mishandling of the current congressional map situation.

House Bill 722 would establish an 11-member commission, consisting of four Republicans, four Democrats, and three voters who are members of neither of the two major parties. While candidates for these positions would be selected at random from a pool of voluntary applicants, I cannot imagine any scenario where political insiders would not take great strides to populate the pool of eligible candidates with hand-picked partisans.

In order to approve any redistricting map, seven commission members must agree, including one Republican, one Democrat and one of the independents. I view it as highly unlikely that such a majority would ever be reached among a commission of potential hyper-partisans. In such cases, the mapmaking would then ultimately be left to the Supreme Court, which would appoint just one person to draw a map to be adopted.

Unfortunately, we have now witnessed what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is capable of doing when drawing maps. In the current instance, the court did not follow its own recommendations for mapping, is quite capable of drawing maps just as partisan as the General Assembly, and is willing to rely on consultants some members of the court have not even spoken to or met.

In no way should anyone interpret my withdrawal of support for House Bill 722 as support for the 2011 congressional map. I believe that map is indeed flawed, and I likely would not have voted for it if I had been in the General Assembly at the time.

Decennial mapmaking is decidedly a legislative task. Members of the General Assembly responsible for such maps are accountable to voters far more often than judges. Three such legislative elections have already been conducted since the implementation of the 2011 map. Even if the court is not drawing the map, the members of House Bill 722's independent commission would never have to face the voters.

I would not support shifting judicial branch authority over legal appeals to an independent commission, nor would I support shifting executive branch authority over various state departments to any independent commission. Likewise, and for the above stated reasons, I cannot support transferring legislative authority over decennial mapmaking to an unelected, unaccountable – and likely hyper-partisan – commission.
Russ Diamond

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