Top court throws out Pa. congressional map; York GOP chair calls decision 'scary'

Staff and wire reports

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday struck down the boundaries of the state’s 18 congressional districts, saying they violate the state constitution and granting a major victory to a group of Democratic voters who argued the districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Republicans.

In this Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 photo, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at his office in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The Democratic-controlled court issued a brief order giving the Republican-controlled Legislature until Feb. 9 to pass a replacement and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf until Feb. 15 to submit it to the court. Otherwise, the justices said they will adopt a plan in an effort to keep the May 15 primary election on track.

Local reaction: The chairman of the York County Democratic Party lauded the court's ruling, while the York County Republican Committee chairman chided it as an example of "judicial overreach."

Alex Shorb, head of the York County GOP, said this decision shows how stacked the courts are in favor of Democrats. He called the situation "scary" because candidates running for office don't even know where their district lines will be.

Chad Baker, head of the county Dems, said the ruling will hopefully ensure that districts are now drawn more fairly.

Chad Baker, chairman of the Democratic Party of York County, speaks during a election board meeting at the York County Administrative Center regarding instances of single voters casting multiple votes during last week's election Monday, Nov.13, 2017. Bill Kalina photo

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Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson, a Democratic candidate for the state 4th Congressional District, said she's a little disappointed knowing she's put so much work campaigning into areas that might no longer be a part of her district, but she agreed with the court's decision.

Corbin-Johnson and Baker said they didn't foresee much change occurring within the 4th District, which encompasses all of York and Adams counties and parts of Dauphin and Cumberland counties.

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, could not be reached for comment; he is in the midst of the his third term representing the district and is seeking-re-election.

Rep. Scott Perry. file photo

George Scott, another Democrat running for the seat, called the court's decision "long overdue," though he said he hopes the 4th District isn't changed significantly.

History: The state Supreme Court said the boundaries “clearly, plainly and palpably” violate the state’s constitution and blocked them from remaining in effect for the 2018 election. The deadline to file paperwork to run in primaries for the seats is March 6.

Republicans who controlled the Legislature and governor’s office following the 2010 census broke decades of geographical precedent when redrawing the map, producing contorted shapes, including one dubbed “Goofy kicking Donald Duck.”

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They shifted whole counties and cities into different districts in an effort to protect a Republican advantage in the congressional delegation. They succeeded, securing 13 of 18 seats in a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 5 to 4.

Uncertainty: “We won the whole thing,” said David Gersch, of the Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer law firm in Washington, D.C., which is helping represent the group of registered Democrats who filed the lawsuit last June.

The decision has immediate implications for the 2018 election, meaning that 14 sitting members of Congress and dozens more people are running or considering running in districts they might no longer live in.

The March 13 special election in a vacant southwestern Pennsylvania seat is unaffected by the order, the justices said.

The U.S. Supreme Court also is weighing whether redistricting can be so partisan that it violates the U.S. Constitution in cases from Maryland and Wisconsin. The high court has never struck down an electoral map as a partisan gerrymander.

— Staff reporter David Weissman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.