The Pittsburgh Foundation has filed an amicus brief in a case before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to determine whether state politicians have drawn legislative districts so favorable to themselves that they violate the rights of voters, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
The lawsuit, Agere v. Wolf, challenges Pennsylvania's congressional districts, which are drawn by the state legislature and approved by the governor. Critics argue that the often partisan-driven process consigns voters to districts with one-party rule, which encourages extremism at the expense of other voices. Calling the state's congressional districts a "draconian infringement of the constitutional rights of Pennsylvania citizens," the foundation filed the brief to urge the court to end unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.
Amicus, or "friend of the court," briefs are filed by people or organizations that aren't directly involved in a lawsuit but have an interest or expertise in the questions it raises. Although the Pittsburgh Foundation had never made such a filing before, foundation president and CEO Maxwell King argued that, with a mission to improve quality of life in the region, it had little choice. "It's all part of our concern about the strength of the civic fabric," King told the Post-Gazette. "More and more voters feel as if they don't matter, they don't have a role. I can't think of anything more threatening to the civic strength of the community than that."
According to Gary D. Bass, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Bauman Foundation and the former head of the now defunct government watchdog OMB Watch, foundations are often active on issues related to government representation, including efforts to fund initiatives that would ensure an accurate U.S. Census, whose numbers are the basis of district maps. However, when his own foundation took up the issue in 2013, "It was harder getting the philanthropic community involved on the redistricting because it's perceived as a partisan issue."
Bass said that foundations are often more comfortable funding activities than undertaking them — in part because many have rules that prevent them from lobbying and engaging in other forms of political engagement. But, he added, the Pittsburgh Foundation "is in a unique position to do something — and to protect its grantees by doing so."