State Congressional District Map Ruled Unconstitutional by PA Supreme Court

Violet Powell
January 23, 2018

But the state's Republican-dominated legislature, which approved the current district map in 2011, has already said it would seek to overturn such a decision in federal court.

By a 4-3 decision, Pennsylvania's Supreme Court ordered the Republican-controlled state legislature to redraw the lines by February 15, an extraordinarily quick timeline that will reset the districts in time for the state's May congressional primaries.

The court's two-page order said the legislature has until February 9 to submit a new map to Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, who would have until February 15 to sign off.

The Court also ruled that the May 2018 primary will not be moved and that districts should amend the election calendar, including the filing and circulation of petitions.

Last week, the nation's highest appellate court blocked a lower court's order for North Carolina to redraw its congressional lines.

In the lawsuit, the League of Women Voters alleged that the last three congressional elections have demonstrated that Pennsylvania's congressional maps are out-of-whack.

The court heard a case from Wisconsin a year ago that challenged Republicans' drawing of state legislative maps for being overtly partisan.

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The court has issued new guidelines lawmakers are to follow when drawing the new legislative districts including "compact and contiguous territory; as almost equal in population as practicable; which does not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary".

That decision, of course, applies only to the state's 18 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and not to state legislative districts.

The new map will need to be drafted by the Pennsylvania General Assembly and submitted to Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat up for re-election in 2018.

The plaintiffs had argued the map violates the Pennsylvania Constitution's guarantees of free expression and equal protection.

First, 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. "My administration is reviewing the order and we are assessing the executive branch's next steps in this process". The court's order did not specify how the map runs afoul of the law but said a full opinion will be released in the future.

Monday's decision could encourage similar state-court challenges elsewhere, said Li, the redistricting expert.

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