A complete guide to Pennsylvania’s redistricting court challenges
This article is part of a yearlong reporting project focused on redistricting and gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. It is made possible by the support ofSpotlight PA members andVotebeat, a project focused on election integrity and voting access.
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s new political maps may have been picked, but that doesn’t mean the redistricting process is over.
There are pending legal challenges against the congressional and legislative maps, which were redrawn this year to account for population changes identified by the census.
Below is a rundown of what you need to know about these lawsuits.
Pennsylvania law gives the responsibility to draw the state’s congressional boundaries to the legislature. The governor has the power to approve or reject the map.
Gov. Tom Wolf did the latter in January when he vetoed a map sent to him by Republicans.
Shortly after that occurred, the state Supreme Court agreed to intervene in an existing case and take over the process. In mid-February, the justices in a 4-3 decision picked a new congressional map from among more than a dozen proposals.
But there’s still at least one legal challenge left to play out.
A group of Pennsylvanians, including two Republicans running for political office, has brought a challenge in federal court, arguing the Pennsylvania justices had no right to pick a new map.
A federal judge in Harrisburg recently denied their request for a temporary restraining order against the map. The petitioners are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider that decision.
Pennsylvania’s state House and Senate districts are drawn by the five-person Legislative Reapportionment Commission, which is composed of the top General Assembly leaders and an independent chair.
Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, any person can bring a challenge to either map directly to the state Supreme Court by March 7. As of March 2, four separate parties had done so.
One group of Butler County residents — potential legislative candidate Ryan Covert, his mother Darlene J. Covert, and supporter Erik Hulick — are challenging how the state House map divides their home county.
House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre), the only member of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission to vote against the maps, wants the court to throw them out. He claims the maps were gerrymandered to benefit Democrats and create districts that do not comply with the Voting Rights Act.
Another elected official — state Sen. Lisa Boscola (D., Northampton) — is objecting to the way her district in the Lehigh Valley was divided.
And Todd Elliott Koger claims he was drawn out of a state House district that includes part of Pittsburgh in order to benefit another candidate who works for Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny), a member of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. In a statement, Costa called the accusation “offensive and completely inaccurate.”
“I would not and did not use my role on the LRC to make a House seat more favorable to a member of my staff,” Costa continued.
After March 7, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission will have a few days to respond to the suits. After the briefs are filed, the court can choose whether it wants to consider the challenges.
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