- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2018

The Supreme Court denied a plea Monday from Pennsylvania lawmakers to preserve the state’s gerrymandered congressional map, in a major win for Democrats who want to see new lines in place for the 2018 election.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who handles requests from Pennsylvania, rejected the request by state Republicans.

“We can now move forward with restoring the confidence to voters that for the first time this decade votes cast will be in constitutional and not gerrymandered districts,” said Micah Sims, executive director for Common Cause Pennsylvania, which helped the challenge.

Republicans controlled the state’s government the last time the maps were drawn before the 2012 election and the lines they produced were very GOP-friendly.

Despite registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans by more than 800,000 voters, Republicans have consistently won 13 of the 18 congressional districts. The state has a Democratic governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and treasurer.

In January, the state Supreme Court in a 4-3 order said the map was too biased, violating the Pennsylvania Constitution. The court said it would issue a more detailed opinion on its decision, but as of Monday afternoon, it had not done so.

The court gave the legislature until Feb. 9 to redraw the boundaries of the state’s 18 districts, and Gov. Tom Wolf has until Feb. 15 to approve it. If the deadlines aren’t met, the Democrat-led court will issue its own map.

“Gerrymandering is wrong and we must correct errors of the past with the existing map. My team is ready, willing and able to work with the General Assembly to ensure a new map is fair and within the clear orders given by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court,” Mr. Wolf said Monday after the Supreme Court’s denial of the request.

But GOP state Sen. Joe Scarnati and House Speaker Mike Turzai, who led the plea to the Supreme Court, said they needed to clear up “chaos,” since the Pennsylvania high court still hasn’t issued an opinion 14 days after its initial order.

“This irresponsible approach handicapped Justice Alito by not providing him with more information, just as it has handicapped the Legislature,” the Republican lawmakers said Monday in a joint statement.

They said they still believe the lower court’s ruling was wrong, and “may be compelled to pursue further legal action in federal court.”

The old congressional map, which was drafted by GOP lawmakers in 2011, will still be used for the special election in March for former Republican Rep. Tim Murphy’s old seat. He resigned last year after reports emerged he encouraged a woman who he was having an affair with to get an abortion.

The Supreme Court is in the middle of deciding a number of other gerrymandering challenges, including a landmark case out of Wisconsin.

Analysts said it’s rare for the justices to get involved in overturning a state Supreme Court when the issue is the state’s own constitution.

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