On January 22, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, currently with a 5-2 Democratic majority, issued a split decision that threw out the state’s current congressional district map used in elections to the U.S. House of Representatives. The court ordered the legislature to submit a new map of the state’s 18 congressional districts for the Governor’s approval by February 9. Governor Wolf would then have until Feb. 15 to approve the map, with the new districts being implemented as soon as this spring’s primaries in April. Should the Republican legislature and Gov. Wolf fail to agree on a map by the court specified dates, a court drawn map will be adopted.
At the heart of the court’s ruling was that the district borders of the current map created in 2011 “clearly, plainly and palpably violates” the state Constitution. This decision follows the challenge brought forth by 18 Democratic voters, supported by the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters, who argued before the court that the districts were partisanly gerrymandered to discriminate against Democratic voters.
Pennsylvania Senate Democrats and Governor Wolf have expressed support for the court’s decision, with Wolf issuing a statement saying “I have long said that gerrymandering is wrong and the current map is unfair. My administration is reviewing the court’s order and next steps in this process. I will not accept a partisan gerrymander or a map that is unchanged from the one drawn in 2011.”
Meanwhile, legislative leaders have defended the Republican drawn map as meeting constitutional tests: all districts are contiguous, have roughly the same population, and do not discriminate on the basis of race. Drew Crompton, counsel to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, argued “this is a federal court issue”, thus, along with counsel for House Speaker Mike Turzai, filed for a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday.
Guidelines provided for the new map by the state Supreme Court are that “districts composed of compact and contiguous territory; as nearly equal in population as practicable; and which do not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary to ensure equality of population.”
Crompton points out, “We understand that they want lines that, dare I say, look neater, and that’s their right but unfortunately they can’t base that on case law or the constitution because it’s not there.”
Legislators are now rushing to meet the court-imposed February 9 deadline.
(Photo by Ruhrfish/Wikimedia)