Latino advocate promises lawsuit against new Pa. legislative maps

Victor Martinez, a Lehigh Valley radio station owner who has been a vocal critic of the maps, told the Capital-Star that he was setting up a meeting of other like-minded community members to talk over how — not if — to file a lawsuit

By: - February 10, 2022 1:43 pm

The new Pa. House map (Capital-Star file).

At least one Latino community leader is promising legal action over Pennsylvania’s newly approved state legislative lines.

Victor Martinez, a Lehigh Valley radio station owner who has been a vocal critic of the maps, told the Capital-Star that he was setting up a meeting of other like-minded community members to talk over how — not if — to file a lawsuit.

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“We are considering whether we file on our own, or join forces with the Republicans,” Martinez told the Capital-Star this week. “Those are the options.”

Martinez has argued that the maps as currently drawn will dilute the voting power of Pennsylvania’s Latino residents, even though they were the fastest growing demographic group in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania’s legislative maps were approved in a bipartisan 4-1 vote last week by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, which is made up of the House and Senate’s four floor leaders and a fifth, independent chairman.

The 203-district House map has sparked the most controversy. It creates seven more districts that have a critical mass of Black, Latino, and Asian voters than exist in the current map, likely giving these groups a chance to pick a winner under the new lines.

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Many of those districts also will not have incumbents, making it even easier for a new face to win. 

But these new districts were made by reducing the number of minority voters in majority- minority districts. The average majority-Latino district, for instance, became about 3 percentage points less Latino, according to Dave’s Redistricting App, an online tool for analyzing legislative districts.

After the maps were approved, the commission’s chairperson, Mark Nordenberg, said it was influenced by testimony from individuals who wanted to see minority voters’ power expanded. 

He wanted to avoid over-concentrating Black and brown voters in a handful of districts. The legal risk, he added, “all depends on what your motives are, and how careful you are,” Nordenberg added.

The new districts, all but one of which lean Democratic, will also likely cut into Republicans’ majority in the lower chamber, part of why they’ve been quick to call the map a gerrymander.

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, said he had not talked with Martinez yet, but was encouraged by the news.

“We encourage anybody in the state of Pennsylvania who feels they’re upset about whether their areas were cracked, whether they were overpacked” to file suit, Benninghoff said, “and I think Victor would be an excellent person to do that.”

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House Republicans were still weighing their legal options, Benninghoff added.

He has previously argued that challenges from racial or ethnic groups may have more weight in state court this redistricting cycle, since Pennsylvania voters approved a constitutional amendment last spring banning racial or ethnic discrimination.

Federal law also provides protections against diluting minority voters’ power during redistricting.

Salewa Ogunmefun, director of Pennsylvania Voice, a coalition of left-of-center organizations that advocate for a more representative democracy, said she saw the map as a compromise.

Nordenberg and the other commissioners had to draw a map that represented the rapid growth of non-white communities in the commonwealth, while working with district lines that have 30 years of inequities baked into them.

“With that in mind, “do I agree with every decision? I can’t say that,” Ogunmefun said. “But I think that they did a really good job of making sure they balance those two things.”

Opponents have until March 6 to file suit against the maps in the state Supreme Court.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.