The United States Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an emergency appeal in a gerrymandering case from Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in a 5-2 decision on January 22nd, that the state’s congressional districts were drawn illegally, in a way that violated Pennsylvania’s own constitution, to benefit Republican party candidates. In the case of the League of Women Voters of PA v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania high court forbid state officials from using the then current map, established with the Pennsylvania Congressional Redistricting Act of 2011, including with their upcoming May 15, 2018, primaries.
Redrawing the Lines
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court gave the legislature some very specific deadlines about how they could redraw the maps and submit them for approval. Under the court’s order, the legislature has until February 9th to submit a plan to the governor, and if he approves of it, to submit it to the court by February 15th. The court then stated that it would publish a new district map of its own drawing if need be, giving a February 19, 2018, deadline for that publication and stating that any new map, to be legal need be:
…of compact and contiguous territory; as nearly 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.
That would certainly be a change from the current district map which includes such preposterous examples such as this, from Pennsylvania’s first congressional district seen here:
On the eastern border of the district lies the Delaware River. On the other sides, those lines aren’t drawn around tidal waters; they’re drawn around neighborhoods with Republican registered voters.
If one party, let’s say Republicans, can put together a district where almost all the voters are likely to be Democrat voters, then they can engineer other districts where Republicans can win, or be competitive, where they otherwise wouldn’t be. That is the power of drawing district lines. Put all the opposition voters together to minimize their electoral power. It’s why Barack Obama and Eric Holder have teamed up to create the National Democratic Redistricting Committee to change these maps.
A Conspiracy of Cartographers
Pennsylvania Republicans challenged the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ruling to the United States Supreme Court with an emergency appeal. They asked the federal court to stay the decision of the state court while they proceeded with an appeal. These emergency appeals are first seen by a single United States Supreme Court Justice and are handled by different Justices based on their geographic origin. Justice Alito disposes of petitions from the Third Circuit, including Pennsylvania. Alito denied the petition.
January 18, the justices granted a request by Republican legislators in North Carolina to block a ruling by a three-judge federal court that struck down that state’s federal congressional maps as the product of partisan gerrymandering, and the Pennsylvania legislators and voters had hoped for the same result in their case.
That’s from Supreme Court reporter Amy Howe. She goes on to speculate that the difference between the North Carolina and Pennsylvania cases may be that the Pennsylvania court explicitly states that the state constitution that led it to its decision, and not the U.S. Constitution. That is to say, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated in its ruling; it was relying on the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to decide the case and not the U.S. Constitution.
The political ramifications of the changes will be consequential indeed as Reuters reporting that “[a] new map could give Democratic candidates a chance to capture as many as half a dozen Republican seats in Pennsylvania alone…”Cartographers, call your office.