Pennsylvania's top court delivers scathing indictment of political gerrymandering

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf center accompanied by state House Minority Leader Rep. Frank Dermody right D-Allegheny and state Rep. Joe Markosek left D-Allegheny discuss state budget negotiations at the state

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf center accompanied by state House Minority Leader Rep. Frank Dermody right D-Allegheny and state Rep. Joe Markosek left D-Allegheny discuss state budget negotiations at the state

Pennsylvania lawmakers are approaching a court-imposed deadline to redraw the state's map of congressional districts that was thrown out on grounds it unfairly helped Republicans.

This memo was distributed just one day after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Pennsylvania Republicans' appeal, a ruling Dush said "completely violated the [Pennsylvania state] constitution by ordering that the legislation comes directly to them if the legislature and the governor do not agree", on Tuesday on The Ken Matthews Show.

The state's highest court gave the Republican-controlled legislature until Friday to submit a proposed replacement to Wolf, who has until February 15 to approve the boundaries and submit the map to the court.

Citizens across Pennsylvania - including an eighth grade class in Chester County - have since drawn up congressional maps "that complied very nicely with the court's order", Kuniholm said. A decision against maps that are overtly political, overwhelmingly favoring one party over another, ultimately could force congressional districts to be redrawn elsewhere, including battleground states such as Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia.

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The court ruled that district lines can be redrawn to preserve some district lines, protect incumbents, and maintain political balance in the state, but that those considerations should be subordinate to politically neutral districts and that "gerrymandering for unfair partisan political advantage" would be unconstitutional. Any momentum will be amplified by fairer congressional districts, but it likely won't result in the Democrats getting the majority of the state's congressional seats.

Wolf said his office is ready to work with the General Assembly to get new maps approved.

The Republican leaders cited Wecht's comments during his successful 2015 campaign that "gerrymandering is an absolute abomination", it is "antithetical to the concept of one person, one vote", and that the Republican domination of congressional races in the state can't be explained "without partisan gerrymandering". In drawing a new map, the order said, districts should be compact and contiguous, as equal in population as possible, and split as few counties and towns as possible.

Chief Justice Thomas Saylor and Justice Sallie Updike Mundy [opinions, PDF] each filed dissenting opinions. And there's some speculation that the state Supreme Court's lack of movement on releasing its detailed opinion may be meant to avoid releasing anything that would provide fodder for a legal challenge, he said.

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"That being said, the overreach by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for purely political purposes is a risky precedent to set", Bernstine said.

"It is the first time that a state constitution has been used to strike down a map where [anti-gerrymandering language] is not explicit", Li said.

Crompton says there are still questions that remain about constitutionality and the court's authority to draw the new map. "I would never have fathomed that the Court would give the General Assembly 18 days to finish its assignment all the while holding its opinion for 16 of them".

By using the state constitution's "free and equal" clause - and distinguishing it from the federal constitution's Equal Protection Clause - the opinion shows that state constitutions can be broader in their protections, providing a new avenue for fighting partisan gerrymandering, said Joshua A. Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky and expert on election law.

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Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, said that decision upholds the right of voters to fair representation in Pennsylvania. Candidate filing also would begin Monday. Crompton also said that the court is positioning itself to usurp the legislature's role in drawing maps. "It is time to get the 2018 election season started without any more voter confusion".

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