Latinos to Appeal Court’s Decision in Pennsylvania Reapportionment Case

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 6, 2013
CONTACT: John Garcia, Director of Communications, 212-739-7513, 917-673-9095 or jgarcia@latinojustice.org.

Latinos in Pennsylvania have filed a notice with the court that they intend to appeal last month’s denial for a special state-wide election saying that the use of decades-old district lines remains unconstitutional and unfair to the Latino community.

Last year Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court allowed the state to use decade old district lines for state-wide elections after rejecting the proposed new district lines created by the state’s redistricting commission. Latinos initially tried to stop the 2012 primary election in federal court, but were denied. They subsequently filed papers requesting the federal court to hold a special statewide election in 2013 or alternatively shorten the four-year terms of those state senators elected last year so they would have to run again in 2014. Federal District Judge R. Barclay Surrick ruled on April 5th that inasmuch as the revised redistricting maps were still under review by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, any “Judicial intervention by this court at this juncture would be inappropriate.”

The appeal will be handled by LatinoJustice PRLDEF and Reed Smith, an international law firm with offices in Pennsylvania. The original complaint was filed by LatinoJustice PRLDEF and local counsel Jose Ongay, Esq. on behalf of Joe Garcia, Fernando Quiles and Dalia Rivera Matias against the 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission and Pennsylvania Secretary of the State Carol Aichele. “Historically, the Latino community in Pennsylvania has understood the importance of fair elections and is therefore committed to making sure that they receive equal treatment right under the law,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “Using old lines to decide new elections is against basic constitutional protection in our country, no matter if it’s for state senator, mayor or any elected office. The notion that somehow Pennsylvania requires more time to redistrict when virtually every other state has redone their state legislative lines by now, is an affront to all voters in the state, especially Latinos.”

Plaintiff and LatinoLines member Joe Garcia said, “I am fighting for an individual’s right to have proper representation in this democracy. I’m taking this stand for my neighborhood’s rights to representation under the law and voter equality based on current census numbers. This is a fight for fairness and equity. And now it’s clear we are also fighting for the United States of America to retain its democratic principles.”

Wynne Alexander, of LatinoLines, said, “LatinoLines and LatinoJustice are fighting for the rights of all Americans in this illegally-prolonged battle against the obvious injustice of gerrymandering. The recent assault at the U-S Supreme Court level by Justice Scalia in an attempt to destroy the most powerful aspects of the 1965 Voting rights act, shows the impact we are having. We are fighting to keep the United States true to its democratic ideals and we are doing this now for all Americans.”

In 2011, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected new district boundaries approved by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. The court told the commission to create a new reapportionment plan. The court then said that until new lines are approved, the 2001 Legislative Reapportionment Plan “shall remain in effect” and those lines would be used for the 2012 election.

Latinos subsequently filed a lawsuit in federal court to prevent the state from using the decades-old boundary lines, claiming the lines were unconstitutional, harm Latino voters and cause an inequality in opportunities for Latinos to elect representatives of their choice. They charged that using the old district boundaries violated the one person, one vote doctrine of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiffs and several elected officials from Pennsylvania’s Senate and House leadership filed separate lawsuits to stop the 2012 primary elections based on the old district lines. The federal court in February, 2012 said it was too late to stop the April primary elections and allowed them to proceed. The plaintiffs then filed a motion for an injunction asking the court to force a special election and to shorten the four-year terms of those elected in 2012. The federal court recently denied the injunction and dismissed the case.

Pennsylvania still has not completed its task of enacting new district boundaries pursuant to the 2010 census. There are more than 700,000 Latinos living in Pennsylvania, most of them Puerto Ricans. The cities of Philadelphia, Reading and Allentown have seen huge growth in the Latino populations in the past 10 years.
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LatinoJustice PRLDEF, established in 1972, has won landmark civil rights cases in education, housing, voting, migrant, immigrant, employment and other civil rights. Through the efforts of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Latino voters have been critical players in ensuring fair and bilingual election systems and fair redistricting opportunities for the nation’s largest minority.

Reed Smith traces its history in Pennsylvania back to 1857. With lawyers from coast-to-coast in the United States, as well as in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Reed Smith is one of our country’s leading law firms and provides countless hours of pro bono assistance to worthy causes every year.

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