Ex-University of Pittsburgh Chancellor to Chair Pennsylvania Redistricting Commission

May 16, 2021 by Dan McCue
Mark Nordenberg (University of Pennsylvania)

HARRISBURG — Mark Nordenberg, a former University of Pittsburgh chancellor, will chair the committee in charge of drawing Pennsylvania’s legislative districts, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced this week.

The appointment means Nordenberg, a former dean of Pitt’s law school, will hold the potentially tie-breaking vote on the state’s Legislative Reapportionment Commission.

The state’s highest court was forced to handle the appointment after 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 who they considered a suitable candidate.

In the past week alone leading up to the court’s announcement, at least two dozen people had been put through the interview process.

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.

After that, Nordenberg’s first job will be to act as a mediator as the four legislators submit maps that are expected to benefit their own parties.

Eventually, if all goes to plan, and in a perfect world, the panel will compromise on a single map. If not, Nordenberg is the tie-breaker vote in the event of an impasse.

After the legislators failed to settle on a candidate, they wrote a letter to the Supreme Court, asking it to appoint someone who would be a “fair and neutral arbiter of the process.”

They also suggested the person chosen should be from outside the political arena.

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

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.

The once-a-decade redrawing of Pennsylvania’s political boundaries comes after a year of intense partisan clashes over the 2020 election and the state’s pandemic response. 

Republicans controlled the redistricting process 10 years ago, but the balance of power has since shifted toward the Democrats because of changes in the executive and judicial branches.

Republican lawmakers will draw a new congressional map as part of legislation, but it must go to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf for approval. Should they fail to reach an agreement, the state Supreme Court would decide whether the map is fair to all concerned.

The five-member Legislative Reapportionment Commission, meanwhile, draws the state House and Senate maps. Anyone may challenge one or both of the final maps within 30 days, and if that happens, the state Supreme Court will step in for a review.

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