District Court Gerrymandering

Today’s DelCo Times has a piece about the upcoming magisterial district court redistricting. Court of Common Pleas President Judge Kelly is in charge of redrawing the district lines for Delaware County. Overall the court was seeking to reduce the number of district courts and balance case load. Because Judge Krull was recently elected from to the Court of Common Pleas, her old district court (Media, Swarthmore, northern Nether Providence) is vacant. Judge Kelly has taken this opportunity to gerrymander the Wallingford-Swarthmore school district so no part of it lies in a district with a Democratic judge. The details can be found in the court’s summary here, and the redistricting plan here. County Council member and Nether Providence resident Christine Reuther is quoted in the DelCo Times article,

Districts 39 and 48 are contiguous only in the technical term of the word.

“Our township and school district are broken up in ways that can only make sense if you assume a partisan gerrymander,” Reuther said. “There is no community of interest with Middletown, where the north wards now go for MDJ proceedings. Nether and Middletown are contiguous in a way that can best be described as technical. It will force our police to drive a distance to the Middletown MDJ Court which makes no sense. Our school will be split between 4 MDJs which means there is no possibility of a workable youth aid panel.”

Reuther said with that split, incumbent Republican MDJs will not have to face a competitive race, absent major demographic shifts.

Why does this matter? Magisterial district courts hear traffic, bail and minor criminal and civil cases. This often includes matters affecting youth such as truancy cases and underage drinking. The aforementioned youth aid panel is a program that Judges Klein and Krull ran to keep children in legal trouble in school and on track to graduate. That would likely be discontinued under these new districts. Nether Providence’s court cases, instead of being heard in a court in our area, will be held further afield in Middletown for those in Wards 3, 4 and Ward 2, precinct 1 (dividing up Ward 2 which will also complicate Nether Providence’s own redistricting). Wards 1, 5, 6, 7 and ward 2, precinct 2 will be heard in Ridley. Besides residents who will have to travel further, the police who regularly attend court will likewise need to make a longer commute to court, pulling them from their regular work keeping Nether Providence safe. It also means the judges hearing cases will not have been elected by the districts they serve (excepting here in Garden City and Ward 1).

Rutledge would end up in the Ridley district with southern Nether Providence. Swarthmore is added to a Springfield court. Rose Valley gets added to the Brookhaven, Parkside, Upland court. Media becomes part of Upper Providence’s district.

Overall this demonstrates the continuing partisan trend of courts from top to bottom in America. Recently the Republican dominated Court of Common Pleas threw out mail-in voting in Pennsylvania, but many expect the Democratic-leaning state Supreme Court to re-implement it.

Categories: Courts, Uncategorized