The Pennsylvania legislature will redraw the state’s congressional district lines in advance of the 2018 midterm elections, after the Supreme Court Monday declined to overturn an order requiring a new map.
The decision is a victory for Pennsylvania Democrats, who convinced the state supreme court in January that the current map is gerrymandered to favor Republicans, in violation of the state constitution. The court ordered the GOP-controlled legislature to produce a new map by Feb. 9.
Justice Samuel Alito, who handles emergency motions arising from Pennsylvania, turned away the legislature’s request to delay the redrawing. Republicans argued the state supreme court’s decision effectively stripped them of their power to produce district maps, which the Constitution vests with state lawmakers. There was no noted dissent.
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The state court’s decision was made under the auspices of Pennsylvania’s constitution. The justices generally allow state courts to have the final word on matters relating to a state’s constitution.
Republican leaders acknowledged their effort was something of a long shot. Still, they argue the uncertainty prompted by the state supreme court’s ruling warranted dramatic steps. The new district lines could dramatically change the political environment and impose significant logistical burdens on campaigns, just weeks before the March filing deadline. Primaries will follow shortly thereafter in May.
“We understood when requesting the stay that this is a rarely used remedy, but given the chaos caused by the state supreme court’s decision to overturn the state’s congressional map, we believed the request was necessary,” assembly Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Joe Scarnati said in a joint statement after the decision.
“We will do our best to comply with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Jan. 22 order, but may be compelled to pursue further legal action in federal court,” they added.
There are 18 congressional seats in Pennsylvania, 13 of which are held by Republicans. Democrats are almost certain to pick up seats under the new map, a boon to their efforts to take control of the House of Representatives.
The Supreme Court is currently considering the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering. That case, Gill v. Whitford, arose from Wisconsin, where Democrats argue the state legislature district lines are skewed in favor of Republicans. A decision is expected by June.
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