Pennsylvania congressional map battle lands in Supreme Court
HARRISBURG – A request by Republican leaders in the Pennsylvania Legislature to stop a new congressional map from being implemented is now in the hands of the nation’s highest court.
The filing made late Wednesday asked Justice Samuel Alito to intervene, saying the state Supreme Court overstepped its authority in imposing a new map.
More litigation may follow, as Republicans are considering a separate legal challenge in federal court in Harrisburg this week.
The state Supreme Court last month threw out a Republican-crafted map that was considered among the nation’s most gerrymandered, saying the 2011 plan violated the state constitution’s guarantee of free and equal elections.
The new map the state justices announced Monday is widely viewed as giving Democrats an edge as they seek to recapture enough U.S. House seats to reclaim the majority.
House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati said the state’s highest court made an unprecedented decision.
“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court conspicuously seized the redistricting process and prevented any meaningful ability for the Legislature to enact a remedial map to ensure a court drawn map,” they wrote in a filing made electronically after business hours.
The challenge adds uncertainty as candidates are preparing to circulate nominating petitions to get their names on the May primary ballot.
A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, responding to the lawmakers’ filing, said Wolf was “focused on making sure the Department of State is fully complying with the court’s order by updating their systems and assisting candidates, county election officials and voters preparing for the primary election.”
It is the third time in four months that Turzai and Scarnati have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to put a halt to litigation over the 2011 map they took leading roles in creating.
Alito handles emergency applications from Pennsylvania and the other states covered by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Justices have the authority to deal with these applications on their own, or they can refer the matter to the entire court.
In November, Alito turned down a request for a stay of a federal lawsuit, a case that Turzai and Scarnati won in January.
On Feb. 5, Alito rejected a request from Turzai and Scarnati to halt a Jan. 22 order from the state Supreme Court that gave the Republican leaders two weeks to propose a map that would be supported by Wolf and until last week to suggest a new map to the court.
Turzai and Scarnati argued that the state’s high court gave them scant time to propose their own map after throwing out the 2011 version, ensuring “that its desired plan to draft the new map would be successful.” As evidence of a “preordained plan,” they cited comments critical of gerrymandering made by Justice David Wecht during his 2015 campaign for the court.
“The court’s process was entirely closed,” they told Alito. “It did not allow the parties the opportunity to provide any comment to the proposed map, inquire on why certain subdivisions were split and whether it was to meet population equality, or further evaluate whether partisan intent played any role in the drafting.”
As a sign of the litigation’s potential impact on national politics, President Donald Trump on Tuesday urged Republicans to press their challenge of the map to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Your Original was correct! Don’t let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!” Trump tweeted.
The five Democrats on the state Supreme Court sided with Democratic voters who challenged the map, although one of the Democratic justices, Max Baer, has pointedly opposed the compressed timetable.
Republicans who controlled the Legislature and the governor’s office after the 2010 census crafted the now-invalidated map to help elect Republicans. They succeeded in that aim: Republicans won 13 of 18 seats in three straight elections even though Pennsylvania’s registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans.
An analysis conducted through PlanScore.org concluded the court’s redrawn map eliminates “much of the partisan skew” favoring Republicans on the old GOP-drawn map, but not all of it.
Congressional candidates have from Feb. 27 to March 20 to collect and submit enough signatures to get on the ballot, and the new maps have candidates and would-be candidates scrambling to decide whether to jump in. Five incumbents are not seeking another term and a sixth has resigned, an unusually large number of openings.