By: Christina Fulponi, Government Affairs Coordinator
Rushing to meet the court ordered February 9, 2018, deadline, top Republican leaders House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Joe Scarnati submitted a new map for Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional districts on Friday evening.
The redistricting case began on January 22, 2018, when the state Supreme Court ruled Pennsylvania’s eighteen Republican drawn Congressional districts to be unconstitutionally gerrymandered. The court held that the partisan map violates the provision in the state Constitution which states that elections “shall be free and equal.” Lawmakers in the state general assembly were given until the 9th of February to redraw the map and submit it to Governor Tom Wolf (D), who would then have until the 15th of February to approve it.
The day after the state’s decision, Republican leaders requested the United States Supreme Court to grant a stay in an emergency appeal, which would block the state court’s ruling if granted. GOP state legislators argued that with the fast-approaching 2018 elections, redrawing the Congressional district maps would result in unwarranted confusion amongst voters and candidates alike. Recently, the Supreme Court has granted stays for trial court rulings regarding gerrymandering in North Carolina and Wisconsin. However, Pennsylvania lawmakers were not as fortunate.
The Supreme Court Justices denied their request last Monday, February 5, leaving the state lawmakers with less than a week to meet the ruling deadlines and redraw the map in a manner that was more bipartisan. If these deadlines were not met, the court would take over the task and impose its own map.
Despite disagreeing with the court’s decision, Speaker Turzai and President Scarnati hurriedly adjusted the map and submitted it to Gov. Wolf with little time to spare. While the pair created districts that are far less convoluted in terms of their adherence to county and municipal boundaries, they sought little input from their Republican House colleagues and none from the Democrat lawmakers throughout the drafting process. Under the new map, Democrats would likely gain two districts, and the map drafters believed it to fully comply with the court order, which did not provide them with specific suggestions of how the current map could be improved. Critics of the process also cited ambiguity in the directive from the Supreme Court, which did not state whether the revised map must travel through the traditional legislative process, as has been the process in the past.
Regardless, on Wednesday it was announced that Gov. Wolf had rejected the Congressional map submission, asserting that it is still partial to Republicans. Since no agreement was reached, the court will be responsible for creating the new Congressional districts by Monday, February 19, for use in the May primary election.
February 14, 2018