HARRISBURG – In a landmark decision reached Monday, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled the state’s map of 18 congressional districts was unfairly gerrymandered to benefit Republican candidates and must be redrawn in less than a month, a move members of the Pennsylvania GOP are already looking to delay.
The majority of the Democratic-controlled court stated in its decision that the district map “clearly, plainly and palpably violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” and it was officially enjoined from being used in future elections for the U.S. House of Representatives, beginning with the upcoming primary in May.
The decision has immediate implications for that election, since 14 incumbent congressional members and a number of other candidates are planning to run in districts they may no longer live in. Candidates must file paperwork by March 6, in order to be considered eligible to run in the May primary election.
A special election being held on March 13th to fill a vacancy in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District is unaffected by the ruling.
In prior elections, Republican congressional candidates have captured 13 of the state’s 18 districts, despite Democratic registered voters outnumbering Republican registered voters 5-to-4 statewide.
The argument behind the case is that the state’s congressional delegation could not have such a strong majority of Republican legislators, if the district map was not gerrymandered in favor of Republican candidates, and Pennsylvania’s top court agreed.
The decision itself was split along party lines, with Democratic justices Debra McCloskey Todd, Christine Donohue, Kevin M. Dougherty, David N. Wecht and Max Baer concurring and Republican justices Thomas G. Saylor and Sallie Updyke Mundy dissenting.
“I am also troubled by the order striking down the 2011 Congressional map on the eve of our midterm elections, as well as the remedy proposed by the Court. In my view, the implication that this Court may undertake the task of drawing a congressional map on its own raises a serious federal constitutional concern,” Mundy said.
Baer was the lone Democratic justice to suggest saving a redrawing of the congressional district map for 2020, as opposed to this year.
The majority order did not come with an accompanying rationale or opinion, and did not set forth a timetable for the Court to issue one.
The decision, the first ruling from a state court addressing gerrymandering, now puts the onus on the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania State Legislature to redraw the district map by Feb. 9 and for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to submit it to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania by Feb. 15.
In the event that does not transpire, the Court said it would take the responsibility of adopting a plan to ensure the May primary election is conducted properly upon itself.
On Tuesday, State Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and House Speaker Mike Turzai said the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s ruling harms “the integrity of Pennsylvania’s upcoming Congressional elections” and “throws them into chaos”, and addresses issues of federal law which, in their view, should only be answered by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Scarnati and Turzai filed a request for the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to stay its own order, a mandatory first step before appealing the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The top federal judiciary is already considering cases connected to the constitutionality of gerrymandering in Maryland and Wisconsin, and recently stayed an order which gave North Carolina legislators only two weeks to redraw congressional districts in that state.
Republican officials in Pennsylvania have already cried foul on the decision and the short time mandate with which to redraw the congressional map, and accused the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania of legislating from the bench with its ruling.
In a radio interview aired on 1210 WPHT’s “The Chris Stigall Show”, Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Val DiGiorgio said, “Three judges on the [Supreme] Court [of Pennsylvania] are very, very political judges. And all three of those judges, plus one more, voted to take over what has always been a legislative function. That’s dangerous.”
DiGiorgio added the decision was a “usurpation” by the Court.
“They’re making law from the bench and they’re doing what we’re calling ‘judicial-mandering,” DiGiorgio stated.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania case 159 MM 2017
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org