Pa. Supreme Court picks former Pitt chancellor to chair powerful redistricting commission

Pennsylvania Supreme Court (Christopher Millette / PennLive)

Pennsylvania Supreme Court (Christopher Millette / PennLive)

This story originally appeared on Spotlight PA.

This article is part of a yearlong reporting project focused on redistricting and gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. It is made possible by the support of Spotlight PA members and Votebeat, a project focused on election integrity and voting access.

A former University of Pittsburgh chancellor will chair the committee in charge of drawing Pennsylvania’s legislative districts, a potentially tie-breaking position that can influence who holds power in the General Assembly for the next decade.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced Monday that it had appointed Mark Nordenberg, who also previously served as the dean of Pitt’s law school, to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission.

The four legislative leaders on the panel — Republicans Sen. Kim Ward and Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, and Democrats Sen. Jay Costa and Rep. Joanna McClinton — failed to agree on a fifth member after interviewing more than 30 people last week, giving the responsibility of naming a chair to the high court.

The commission must now wait until at least mid-August for the U.S. Census Bureau to deliver the new population data needed to begin redrawing Pennsylvania’s state House and Senate districts.

In their order, the justices, five Democrats and two Republicans, did not explain why they picked Nordenberg. The redistricting chair typically serves as mediator and referee between the four legislators, who historically have submitted maps that benefit their own party. The chair also serves as the tie-breaker vote in the event of an impasse.

Nordenberg, who was born and raised in Minnesota, became a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1977. He became dean of the law school in 1985 and was elected chancellor in 1996.

He announced his retirement in June 2013 and was named chair of the University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, an independent nonprofit at Pitt, a year later.

Nordenberg will be the third former law professor to serve as chair. The position has also been held by three former judges. Men have held the title of chair in each decade that the committee has existed.

The caucus leaders told the state Supreme Court justices in a letter Friday that they wanted someone who was a “fair and neutral arbiter of the process” and someone who hadn’t run for office or worked as a lobbyist recently.

“This will ensure the chair of the commission will come into this process dissociated from partisan politics,” the commissioners wrote.

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