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U.S. Supreme Court Allows Pennsylvania Congressional Redistricting to Move Forward

by on February 05, 2018 6:14 PM

The redrawing of Pennsylvania's congressional map prior to the May primary election will proceed after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal from state Republican lawmakers for an emergency stay.

Justice Samuel Alito denied the request from Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and Speaker of the House Mike Turzai which was filed after a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision that ruled the current congressional map was the result of partisan gerrymandering and had to be redistricted. Alito handles emergency applications from Pennsylvania.

The state court ruled in a 4-3 decision on Jan. 22 that the current map of Pennsylvania's 18 congressional districts "clearly, plainly and palpably violates" the state Constitution. That ruling came on a challenge by 18 Democratic voters and the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters, who argued that the map drawn in 2011 by the Republican-controlled legislature was gerrymandered. Twelve of the 18 districts are currently represented by Republicans.

Now the legislature has until Friday to send a new map to Gov. Tom Wolf, who then has until Feb. 15 to approve it and send it on to the state Supreme Court. If the General Assembly doesn't get it done, or Wolf doesn't approve, the court will redraw it.

“The U.S. Supreme Court correctly recognized that there is no reason to delay implementing the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s order," Wolf said in a statement. "Now, all parties must focus on getting a fair map in place. Gerrymandering is wrong and we must correct errors of the past with the existing map. My team is ready, willing and able to work with the General Assembly to ensure a new map is fair and within the clear orders given by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.”

The state Supreme Court has retained as an adviser Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford University professor and expert in redistricting who has assisted drawing congressional maps currently in use by several states.

Turzai and Scarnati argued that the state court's decision went beyond interpreting the Pennsylvania Constitution and "was usurping the state legislature's authority" for handling the congressional map.  

Following the state Supreme Court ruling in January, U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, joined a delegation of nine Republican Congressmen from Pennsylvania in a statement calling the decision "misguided" and an example of the judiciary performing legislative responsibilities.

"Today’s Congressional maps were drafted and approved by both Republicans and Democrats," the statement said. "It also comes on the eve of a midterm election. An orderly electoral process is an essential function of our Democracy.”

At a town hall in State College last week, Wolf and other members of a panel discussion said the issue was nonpartisan and that though the court's decision was an important step, the long-term answer is an independent citizens commission that would be charged with setting the congressional map after each 10-year U.S. Census.

"This court case looks at history and says this is a bad situation that has to be addressed now. What it doesn’t do is change anything about the future," said Debbie Trudeau, a co-leader of the nonpartisan Fair Districts PA in Centre County. "The system needs to change. There are 21 states that use independent citizen commissions. We’d like to be the 22nd."

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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