A six-justice Pennsylvania Supreme Court, divided evenly along political lines, will hear two politically charged matters this week one regarding the state's controversial voter ID law and the other regarding its second review of the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission's redistricting efforts.
The voter ID law, which withstood a constitutional attack before a Commonwealth Court judge last month, heads to the justices as proponents have called it a valid measure against voter fraud. Its opponents, on the other hand, claim the law is a thinly veiled Republican effort to disenfranchise poor and minority voters.
The closely-watched matters highlight a busy three-day session for the justices starting today in Philadelphia. Among other cases of interest are a legal malpractice suit against Margolis Edelstein, an insurance case asking whether emotional distress absent physical injury can be covered under an insurance policy's definition of "bodily injury," an appeal dealing solely with whether punitive damages should have been awarded in a drug products liability case, and two cases over whether juveniles can be subjected to mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Take Two For Reapportionment
For the legislative reapportionment challenges, which go before the court on Thursday as a block of 13 individual challenges, the arguments mark the second time the 2011 maps have gone before the high court this year. In February, the court explained its unprecedented decision to toss the commission's first set of maps in an 87-page opinion from Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, who switched party lines to write for the otherwise-Democratic majority.
In Castille's landmark opinion in Holt v. Legislative Reapportionment Commission, which was argued in January, the chief justice said petitioner Amanda Holt's challenge to the commission's final House of Representatives and Senate maps "overwhelmingly" showed the commission divided too many political subdivisions.
Holt was one of several petitioners to first challenge the district.
Another was commission member and Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny.
Castille said the petitioners seeking to throw out the maps had made a "concrete showing" that the commission's plan ran contrary to law, demonstrating the commission split counties, municipalities and wards when it was not "absolutely necessary."
That is the standard the commission, a five-member team of which the majority is Republican, will argue it has accomplished on remand. The challengers will renew arguments that the commission again divided districts where it was not absolutely necessary.
The 4-3 court's majority opinion did not, however, require the commission to adopt Holt's plan, nor did it instruct the body, specifically, how it should draw the new lines.