Pennsylvania's Supreme Court Strikes Down Congressional District Maps As Unconstitutionally Gerrymandered

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has struck down the boundaries of the state's 18 congressional districts, granting a major victory to plaintiffs who had contended that they were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Republicans.

Pennsylvania's top two Republican state senators, Joe Scarnati and Jake Corman, said Monday that the state court's decision oversteps its legal authority.

The court gave the General Assembly - which remains under Republican control - until February 9 to submit redrawn lines to Gov. Tom Wolf - a Democrat - who must approve the plan no later than February 15. The nation's high court already halted a decision from a three-judge federal court panel that ordered North Carolina's Republican-drawn Congressional map reconfigured.

The Pennsylvania congressional map has been notorious since its first use, in 2012, when Republicans won (and have subsequently held) 13 of the state's 18 House seats despite losing a majority of the popular vote.

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

It is expected that the new map for the 16th District, now held by Rep. Lloyd Smucker, will likely stay similar or get a few additional Republican voters - likely returning to a more familiar shape seen prior to 2011. District courts typically have been loathe to step into cases and rulings based on state Constitutions unless they are seen to violate the U.S. Constitution. That Republican-led court is now looking at two other cases from Maryland and Wisconsin.

Republican leaders immediately said they'd ask the U.S. Supreme Court to put Monday's ruling on hold.

According to the order, congressional districts in the state must be "composed of compact and contiguous territory; as almost 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".

A proposal that would begin the process for a change to the state constitution to create an independent commission to draw the maps has stalled in the Legislature.

"I strongly believe that gerrymandering is wrong and consistently have stated that the current maps are unfair to Pennsylvanians", he said in a statement.

The justices said an opinion would be released soon.

Given how often state and federal courts have knocked these gerrymanders down over their blatant unconstitutionality, one can wish Republicans might engage in a little self-reflection.

  • Joey Payne