Coalition's Advocacy Leads to End of Prison-Based Gerrymandering in PA's State Legislative Districts
Pennsylvania’s Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC) voted 3-2 yesterday to end prison-based gerrymandering in the Commonwealth’s legislative redistricting maps, a practice that contributes to racial injustice and unequal representation. The LRC’s decision follows litigation and sustained advocacy by a coalition of civil rights organizations and lawyers from Ballard Spahr’s Racial Justice and Equality Initiative.
The coalition includes the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Pennsylvania NAACP State Conference, and the Abolitionist Law Center, as well as attorneys from the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. (LDF), and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.
Ballard Spahr litigators Kahlil C. Williams and David H. Pittinsky supported the victory as part of the Racial Justice and Equality Initiative, a pro bono plan of action dedicated to combating racial injustice and inequity through litigation. In 2020, Messrs. Williams and Pittinsky (with LDF as co-counsel) filed a lawsuit challenging the practice of counting incarcerated people as residents of prisons, rather than the districts where they had resided. The suit was dismissed on procedural grounds in early 2021. However, plaintiffs, counsel, and others continued to advocate for an end to the practice of prison-based residential classification, while working with elected officials, prison policy advocates, and others to develop legal and policy arguments to be placed before the LRC.
“This is a tremendous victory for voting rights in Pennsylvania and for our initiative,” Mr. Williams said. “We’re grateful that the LRC has resolved to count incarcerated persons properly, and to end a long-standing practice that so clearly dilutes the voting and representational power of people of color in Pennsylvania.”
The LRC acknowledged in its August 24 resolution ending the practice, beginning with the current redistricting process, that prison-based classification leads to artificial distortion of population counts. Pennsylvania’s prison population comes disproportionately from cities and metropolitan areas, which in turn are home to Pennsylvania’s communities of color, while the state’s prison facilities are located in more rural areas where more white residents live.
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