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ROSS TOWNSHIP ELECTION DISTRICT REAPPORTIONMENT. APPEAL LORI HEISER ET AL. (03/13/85)

decided: March 13, 1985.

IN RE: ROSS TOWNSHIP ELECTION DISTRICT REAPPORTIONMENT. APPEAL OF LORI HEISER ET AL., APPELLANTS


Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in the case of In Re: Ross Township Election District Reapportionment, Misc. Docket No. 6, April Term, 1983.

COUNSEL

Robert L. Byer, Eckert, Seamans, Cherin & Mellott, for appellants.

David G. Ries, with him, John D. O'Brien, Thorp, Reed & Armstrong, for appellees.

Judges Craig, Colins and Palladino, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Craig.

Author: Craig

[ 88 Pa. Commw. Page 235]

A group of electors from Ross Township appeals a decision of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, which accepted the report of a reapportionment commission and thereby reapportioned Ross Township from nine to seven wards. The issue for our determination is whether the trial court erred in its earlier order setting aside the township's first reapportionment plan.

The complex history of the case began when the township adopted, on December 27, 1982, a reapportionment plan which two township commissioners serving as a reapportionment committee had prepared; that plan maintained the township's division into nine wards. A group of township electors filed a petition contesting the plan, and on February 4, 1983, after holding an evidentiary hearing, Judge (now Justice) Papadakos set aside the reapportionment plan and ordered the appointment of a reapportionment commission, pursuant to section 6 of the Municipal Reapportionment Act, Act of December 13, 1974, P.L. 947, 53 P.S. § 11606. This court quashed as interlocutory the township's appeal of that order, and Judge Narick of the common pleas court then appointed the reapportionment commission.

On January 21, 1985 Judge Narick entered a decree nisi confirming the commission's report and new reapportionment plan, which divides the township into seven wards; a second group of electors petitioned the court to intervene and filed exceptions to the commission's report. Without conducting an evidentiary hearing, Judge Narick permitted the intervention but denied the exceptions and also denied the intervenors' request for a stay of the implementation of the new plan. On February 21, 1985, Judge Narick entered a

[ 88 Pa. Commw. Page 236]

    final decree confirming the commission's report and reapportioning the township into seven wards.

The electors' principal contention is that Judge Papadakos erred in setting aside the township's first reapportionment plan. The appointed reapportionment commission, appellee here, defends the trial court's decision, arguing that the original reapportionment committee had considered impermissible factors -- specifically socioeconomic conditions, geographic and topographic factors -- and had used voter registration data and a count of houses rather than relying exclusively upon census data.

The relevant statute, section 3 of the Municipal Reapportionment Act, 53 P.S. § 11603, implements Article 9 § 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution; the Act provides:

Districts shall be composed of compact and contiguous territory as nearly equal in population as practicable as officially and finally reported in the most recent Federal census, decennial or special.

That provision furthers the "one person, one vote" requirement of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964), and reflects the constitutional imperative that districts for local elections, as for state and federal elections, must be ...


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