Wolf backs court on scrapping congressional map
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s governor on Tuesday said he agreed with the state Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the boundaries of the state’s 18 congressional districts, even as Republicans accused the court of playing politics.
The Democratic-controlled court’s decision a day earlier blocked the boundaries from remaining in effect for the 2018 elections with just weeks until dozens of people file paperwork to run for Congress.
“The Supreme Court, I think, ruled correctly that the map we have right now that was established by the Republican Legislature and the Republican governor in 2011 is really unfair,” Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf told KDKA-AM radio during a regularly scheduled appearance Tuesday.
Democratic voters sued in June, contending the districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Republicans, who held 13 of 18 seats in a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 5 to 4.
Top Republican lawmakers on Tuesday evening filed paperwork asking justices to put their decision on hold until after the 2018 elections or, at least, after they appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Republicans expect to file the appeal later this week in hopes federal justices will rule that the state Supreme Court has no authority to redraw congressional districts.
“I feel we are on solid ground with respect to that appeal,” House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said Tuesday.
Constitutional lawyers say the U.S. Supreme Court is very unlikely to block Monday’s decision, given that the lawsuit was decided on the state Constitution.
Otherwise, the state Supreme Court gave the Republican-controlled Legislature until Feb. 9 to pass a replacement map and Wolf until Feb. 15 to submit it to the court. Wolf’s administration and top Republican lawmakers are just getting started, and likely will need to tap outside expertise in map-drawing.
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said the tightly compressed schedule almost ensures lawmakers will fail.
“They sort of set up an impossible process for us, which I’m sure they want us to fail so they can just submit the map that they want to submit,” Corman said Tuesday.
WHICH DISTRICTS MIGHT CHANGE?
The most distended districts are primarily Republican districts, and those are most likely to change significantly, in line with the court’s guidance that districts should be compact, contiguous and equal in population, and limit the division of counties and municipalities.
That includes the 3rd District in northeastern Pennsylvania; the 12th District in western Pennsylvania; the 6th and 7th districts in southeastern Pennsylvania; and the 10th, 11th, 15th and 17th districts, which spread from central Pennsylvania to the New Jersey border.
All are held by Republicans, except for the 17th District.
Wolf’s office and Republican lawmakers aren’t discussing specifics yet. Corman said they would like to keep incumbents in their districts if possible, but two incumbents may have to be squeezed into one district.
WHAT HAPPENS IF LAWMAKERS AND WOLF DON’T AGREE?
The court said it will adopt a map by Feb. 19 and invited parties to the lawsuit to submit proposals. There’s a sort of precedent for that. In 1991, the Legislature was tasked with drawing a new map after the 1990 census.
When lawmakers couldn’t pass a plan, Democratic lawmakers sued and the court ultimately selected one of the plaintiffs’ proposed maps, choosing from among competing plans submitted by different groups of lawmakers.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING NOW?
The plaintiffs say they sued once they had a track record of three elections going back to 2012 that showed how the districts had favored Republicans. However, Republican lawmakers suggest it was timed after the 2015 election of three Democratic justices that reversed the high court’s balance of power.
“We knew this day was coming,” Corman said. “Look, it’s not an accident that they waited until they took the majority of the Supreme Court to file this action. … This was all planned out by the (Democratic National Committee). And they couldn’t win at the ballot box, so they’re going to go to court.”