Pennsylvania court tosses congressional boundaries; impact possible on 2018 election

State Congressional District Map Ruled Unconstitutional by PA Supreme Court

State Congressional District Map Ruled Unconstitutional by PA Supreme Court

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the state's congressional map Monday, ruling that Republican-drawn districts "clearly, plainly and palpably" violate the state's constitution and ordering that the map be redrawn in the next three weeks.

Under the court order, the Republican-controlled state legislature has until February 9 to submit new district lines that don't discriminate on the basis of party registration and are compact and contiguous and do not divide counties or municipalities unless necessary to make districts of equal population.

Because the decision was made on the basis of the state, not the U.S., Constitution, SCOTUS is very unlikely to intervene to save the bacon of Pennsylvania Republicans.

They also say the state court has set up an impossible deadline of February 9 to redraw the map and that will introduce chaos in the upcoming congressional election.

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 confluence of challenges and court rulings concerning so-called partisan gerrymandering raises the political stakes on the eve of the 2018 midterm elections, when Republican control of Congress and many state legislatures is up for grabs. That didn't much matter until now, when the Pennsylvania Supremes have ruled that extreme partisan gerrymandering violated both equal protection and "free expression" provisions of the state Constitution.

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".

The case is League of Women Voters v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. That Republican-led court is now looking at two other cases from Maryland and Wisconsin.

One Democratic justice, Max Baer, agreed with the court majority that the map is illegal but said he would have delayed a new map until the 2020 election cycle to avoid "chaos".

"It is naive to think disruption will not occur", he said. 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. You can read Chief Justice Saylor's opinion here.

Less partisan congressional districts could give Democrats a chance this November to win back as many as half a dozen seats that had been lost to them over the past decade. That state's map is so aggressively gerrymandered that Republicans won 13 of the state's 18 congressional districts in 2012, despite the fact that Democrats won a majority of the popular vote - and Republicans have held those districts ever since.

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