Sen. Scarnati appeals federal judge's order to pay League of Women Voters for costs of gerrymandering challenge

By Karen Kidd | May 3, 2018

PHILADELPHIA — A state senator is appealing a federal judge's order earlier this month to pay more than $29,300 to the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania in reimbursement for the fees and costs of its successful gerrymandering challenge.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati filed the appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit days after a memorandum handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Michael M. Baylson in Pennsylvania's Eastern District ordered him to pay the fees and costs. Scarnati's attempt last fall to remove the league's challenge from state court to federal court had been improper, Baylson said in the memorandum.

"Under all the circumstances, the court finds that Sen. Scarnati should personally be liable for these fees and costs," Baylson said the memorandum. "The court has not located any federal law authority as to whether Sen. Scarnati may be reimbursed."

In a separate order issued the same day as the memorandum, Baylson granted the league's motion for counsel fees and costs and ordered Scarnati to play $26,240 in fees and about $3,120 in costs within 14 days.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael M. Baylson  

The league had sought about $49,646 in attorney fees and $3,120 in costs after alleging that Scarnati improperly removed its challenge over Pennsylvania's congressional map to the district court.

Scarnati filed his notice of appeal on April 17.

The league's claim for fees and costs stems from the challenge it filed last June in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, claiming that the state's congressional map was gerrymandered in favor of Republican candidates. In November, Scarnati used a provision under federal law to remove the case from the Commonwealth Court to a U.S. district court.

"This case is one of tremendous public importance," Baylson said in his memorandum. "The removal was filed just as the trial that had been ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was about to start. [The] plaintiffs had good and sufficient reasons for wanting this case to remain in the Pennsylvania state court system, and the removal threatened the success of that jurisdictional strategy."

There may have been "some... unavoidable duplication of effort" by the plaintiff's attorneys, Baylson said in his memorandum. 

"This is not a critical comment, but [it] rather reflects the urgency of reviewing the law and getting the remand papers filed," he said in the memorandum.

In January, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the state's congressional district map be redrawn by early the following month or the court would do it. The high court later declined state Republicans' request to reconsider and issued a redrawn congressional district map. Within a couple of weeks after the order, state Republicans called for about half of the state's Supreme Court justices to be impeached, and Scarnati said the state Supreme Court had acted unconstitutionally and that he would not comply with its order.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the GOP's challenge to the newly drawn congressional map.

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Organizations in this Story

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Pennsylvania Supreme Court Sen. Joseph Scarnati (R-25) Senate of Pennsylvania U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania U.S. Supreme Court

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