Pennsylvania Supreme Court's gerrymandering opinion seen as 'groundbreaking,' model for other states

Violet Powell
February 10, 2018

Even though the decision will not affect the special election on March 13 in PA's 18th District, midterms are fast approaching, and speculation from pundits states that the PA GOP's reluctance to redraw the map potentially reflects on a fear that Democrats may have a better shot at victory. If no legislative plan is proposed by Friday that would receive approval from Gov. Wolf by February 15, the court will draw their own map.

The Wolf administration is not taking a position as to whether a joint submission by Scarnati and Turzai alone falls within the bounds of the court's order, noting that the court has ultimate discretion to decide such matters.

After briefings and a hearing on Persily's maps, the panel ordered they be enacted over lawmakers' redrawn plans for this year's elections. The Republican redistricting plan, crafted after the 2010 Census, was "aimed at achieving unfair partisan gain" and "undermines voters" ability to exercise their right to vote in free and "equal' elections if the term is to be interpreted in any credible way", the court concluded.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed past year by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and several Democratic voters challenging the map under the state constitution's equal protection and free speech guarantees.

Before the redistricting decision, Democrats had zeroed in on six Pennsylvania congressional districts out of 91 they are targeting nationwide.

The new mapping will help ensure each one of us has an equal voice into who is elected. Meyer says Democrats have already recruited as many candidates as they did in 2016. In the court's estimation, this clause is "a bulwark against the adverse consequences of partisan gerrymandering". They want those districts in and around Charlotte and Raleigh returned to their shapes as originally drawn in 2011.

Chief Justice Thomas Saylor and Justice Sallie Updike Mundy [opinions, PDF] each filed dissenting opinions.

"What the court has said is it has a standard that says you have to follow these traditional rules, and that's a great starting point".

"Now, going forward when they redraw the map, when they redistrict in 2021, there are some clear guideposts that they will have to look to", he said.

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Corman said it's not obvious that the court will automatically OK a plan if it's passed by the Legislature and approved by the governor.

"There's a lot of room for discretionary choice, but it limits the ruling faction from excluding others", Kreimer said.

"Here we go again", he said.

"It is the first time that a state constitution has been used to strike down a map where [anti-gerrymandering language] is not explicit", Li said.

"A diluted vote is not an equal vote, as all voters do not have an equal opportunity to translate their votes into representation".

The plaintiffs - voters harmed by the unconstitutional gerrymandering - challenged 12 of those redrawn districts alleging state and federal constitutional violations.

Gerrymandering critics are hoping the court will rule that voting maps can be so partisan they violate the Constitution. Republican lawmakers have also in an attempt to get him disqualified; the justice, Wecht, said in court filings that he doesn't feel he needs to recuse himself.

A lawyer for Republican lawmaker said appellate court primaries should be cancelled, too, because legislators could put on the ballot this May a statewide referendum that would change how those judges and justices are selected.

In accordance with the plain and expansive sweep of the words "free and equal", we view them as indicative of the framers' intent that all aspects of the electoral process, to the greatest degree possible, be kept open and unrestricted to the voters of our Commonwealth, and, also, conducted in a manner which guarantees, to the greatest degree possible, a voter's right to equal participation in the electoral process for the selection of his or her representatives in government.

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