Legislative leaders promise open and transparent redistricting process
Supreme Court appoints redistricting commission chairman
By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Redistricting the state legislature can begin now that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court named former state Superior Court President Judge Stephen McEwen to chair the commission.
Redrawing the state House and state Senate districts in Pennsylvania is solely the responsibility of the bipartisan redistricting commission, which consists of the four legislative caucus leaders and a fifth member who serves as the chair. The deadline for the lawmakers to pick the fifth member passed on April 4, leaving the decision up to the state Supreme Court, in accordance with the state constitution.
In addition to McEwen, the other members of the commission are Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Alegheny, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny.
Neither the state legislature nor the governor has to approve the commission’s final map.
Legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years to reflect the growth and shift in population based on data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. The commission will use data from the 2010 census.
McEwen served on the state Superior Court, one step below the state Supreme Court, since 1981. He was the president judge of the court from 1996 until 2001 and became a senior judge of the court in 2003.
Though he is still a member of the state Superior Court, he will be suspended from service until the redistricting commission finishes.
“My colleagues and I have acted with expedition in making this appointment so that the reapportionment process may move forward,” Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “This Court has full confidence in his ability to lead the reapportionment commission with fairness, lending to the forthcoming task his superb problem-solving skills and keen ability to mediate differences.”
House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, said the appointment would allow the commission to quickly move ahead.
“Redistricting is a process of making choices in the interest of fairness. The natural role of a judge is to be even-handed and judicious,” Dermody said in a statement.
Dermody promised to hold public hearings around the state as the redistricting process advances. Other legislative leaders promised earlier in the year to do the same.
Steve Miskin, spokesperson for House Republican Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said Turzai is glad the court moved swiftly to appoint the redistricting chair and looks forward to working with McEwen and the rest of the commission on developing fair and legal maps.
Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, a citizen’s advocacy group that is calling for transparency and accountability in the redistricting process, hoped the quick decision by the state Supreme Court would allow the commission to begin its work soon.
“We’re glad that they made a selection in a timely manner because we need the redistricting process to move forward in a manner that has reasonable citizen input,” Kauffman said.
He said a letter sent to the Supreme Court asking for information on the decision-making process for the fifth member of the commission had not been returned.
The court did not return calls seeking comment.
Since the redistricting process was established in 1968, four have served as chairmen of the commission: A. Leo Levin, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh Law School; James Freeman, dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School; Robert Cindrich, a Pittsburgh attorney; and Frank Montemuro, a retired state Supreme court justice. They served on the 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001 commission, respectively.
Only Freeman was selected by a consensus of the other commission members. The others were appointed by the state Supreme Court.
Other legislative leaders did not return requests for comment Tuesday night.
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