Court orders redrawing of Pennsylvania's congressional map, giving Democrats a 2018 boost

Posted January 23, 2018

In a 5-2 decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the electoral map violated the state's Constitution by manipulating the district boundaries to marginalize Democratic voters, a practice called partisan gerrymandering.

The state's highest appellate court, in a split decision, ordered the Legislature to submit new maps of the 18 districts by February 9.

It gives the Republican-controlled Legislature until February 9 to pass a replacement and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf until February 15 to submit it to the court.

The League of Women Voters had challenged the district map in court, arguing that the state's congressional lines were "among the most extreme partisan gerrymanders in American history".

The GOP took took 54.1 percent of the state's congressional vote in 2016 and won 72 percent of the congressional seats, attorneys for the group said in court papers.

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Unaffected by the order is the March 13th special election in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district between Republican State Sen.

The U.S. Supreme Court also is weighing whether redistricting can be so partisan that it violates the U.S. Constitution, in cases from Maryland and Wisconsin. The court is expected to rule by the end of June in both cases.

The state Senate president, Joe Scarnati, and majority leader, Jake Corman, both Republicans, called the court's deadline for a new map "impossible" and said they would request a stay from the US Supreme Court.

If the legislature and Governor do not comply with this order, the maps will be drawn by the court after hearing from all parties in the current case.

To comply with its order, the majority of justices said any new plan must consist of districts "composed of compact and contiguous territory; as almost 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".

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Gov. Tom Wolf said his administration is reviewing the order and assessing the executive branch's next steps in this process.

Democratic voters sued last summer, contending that Pennsylvania's congressional boundaries were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Republicans.

The justices said an opinion would be released soon.

While much of the political world's attention Monday was focused on whether Congress would figure a way to reopen the government, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court handed Democrats a big win.

Given how often state and federal courts have knocked these gerrymanders down over their blatant unconstitutionality, one can wish Republicans might engage in a little self-reflection.

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