HARRISBURG – State Senate President Joseph Scarnati believes the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania unconstitutionally usurped authority from the Legislature in its recent orders to re-draw the state’s map of 18 congressional districts – and therefore, says he won’t comply with them.
On Jan. 22, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania initially ordered the state’s map of 18 congressional districts was unfairly gerrymandered to benefit Republican candidates and must be redrawn by Feb. 9.
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 the above date and for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to submit it to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania by Feb. 15.
In the event that deadline is not met, the Supreme Court said it would take the responsibility upon itself of adopting a plan to ensure the May primary election, the first one to be affected by the changed map, is conducted properly.
In a follow-up order issued by the Supreme Court on Jan. 26, the judiciary stated it was already making preparations to draft and adopt its own congressional redistricting map “in anticipation of the possible eventuality that the General Assembly and the Governor do not enact a remedial congressional districting plan” in the time period established by its initial Jan. 22 order.
Scarnati and House Speaker Mike Turzai recently 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 judiciary they feel should be overseeing the issue.
The nation's highest court 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.
Scarnati and Turzai believe the initial Jan. 22 order violated the U.S. Constitution’s Election Clause, which stipulates “the times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations”, and that state courts such as the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania do not have the proper authority to consider the issue.
Attorney Brian S. Paszamant of Blank Rome in Philadelphia wrote a letter to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on Scarnati’s behalf on Wednesday, to express his opposition to their recent orders and the Feb. 9 deadline associated with them.
The Court’s orders had claimed the Pennsylvania Constitution was violated through use of the current congressional district map, one which has been in place since 2011.
“Yet notwithstanding this fast approaching deadline, the Court has failed to provide the General Assembly with guidance advising how a new map can be drawn without once again violating Pennsylvania’s Constitution,” Paszamant said.
Paszamant added the timetable established in the Jan. 22 order was “untenable”, thus making it “highly likely that the Court, not the General Assembly will ultimately draft an alternate map.”
“The Jan. 26 order only further clarifies this Court’s intention to unconstitutionally usurp the General Assembly’s authority and ability to draft an alternate map. Like the Jan. 22 order, the Jan. 26 order does not explain why the Court deemed the 2011 [map] unconstitutional, nor does it provide the General Assembly with any guidance as to how to draft an alternate map. Instead, the Jan. 26 order can only be fairly read to indicate the Court’s intention to begin drafting an alternate map well in advance of the deadline the Court has established for the General Assembly’s submission of an alternate map to the Governor,” Paszamant stated.
Paszamant’s letter also made reference to the Jan. 26 order mandating that statewide municipal and precinct map data be provided to the Supreme Court, likely to assist the state judiciary in its work to draft an alternate congressional districting map.
“In light of the unconstitutionality of the Court’s orders and the Court’s plain intent to usurp the General Assembly’s constitutionally delegated role of drafting Pennsylvania’s congressional districting plan, Senator Scarnati will not be turning over any data identified in the Court’s orders,” Paszamant concluded.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania case 159 MM 2017
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org