- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2018

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court on Monday ordered lawmakers to redraw the state’s congressional district map ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, saying the current one amounted to partisan gerrymandering in violation of the state constitution.

The court said the legislature must alter the boundaries of the state’s 18 districts by Feb. 9, and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has until Feb. 15 to approve it. If the deadlines aren’t met, the court will issue its own map.

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 Court finds as a matter of law that the Congressional Redistricting Act of 2011 clearly, plainly and palpably violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and, on that sole basis, we hereby strike it as unconstitutional,” the court’s 4-3 order read.

The four justices throwing out the map were Democrats, while two of the dissenters are Republicans.

The order didn’t give specific reasons for outlawing the 2011 map, but said a more detailed opinion would be forthcoming.

Despite registered Democrats outnumbering Republican voters in the state, Republicans have consistently won 13 of the 18 districts.

Monday’s ruling, though, could end up giving Democrats an edge during the midterms later this year.

But several of the state’s Republican lawmakers objected to the order, vowing to appeal to the nation’s Supreme Court this week.

State Sens. Joe Scarnati and Jake Corman, both Republicans, issued a joint statement announcing their application for a stay of the Pennsylvania high court’s decision, saying the justices took partisan actions.

“The Court had this case since November 9, 2017 — giving it over 10 weeks to reach this decision. Yet, it has elected to give the legislature 19 days to redraw and adopt the Congressional Districts,” their statement read.

“With matters the Supreme Court found unconstitutional in the past, it afforded the General Assembly four months to make corrections,” they said.

Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, tweeted that the state court will likely get the last word in this dispute, since the case deals with the state constitution, not federal.

The Supreme Court, though, did stay a North Carolina court’s order last week, which had ordered the state of North Carolina to redraw its congressional map. The justices also heard a partisan gerrymandering case out of Wisconsin last year.

A decision in the Wisconsin case is expected before the end of the term in June.

Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice which filed a friend of the court brief in the Pennsylvania case supporting the plaintiffs, said the ruling was a “huge, historic win.”

“While the U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in on the issue soon, the Pennsylvania decision shows that there is a second powerful avenue in state courts for voters fed up with gerrymandering,” said Mr. Li.


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