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PA Gerrymandering Ruling Called Major Victory

The court ordered that new congressional district lines be set by Feb. 19. (61-1099lm/Wikimedia Commons)
The court ordered that new congressional district lines be set by Feb. 19. (61-1099lm/Wikimedia Commons)
January 24, 2018

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Election law advocates say the state Supreme Court's ruling declaring Pennsylvania's congressional map unconstitutional was the first of its kind in the nation.

On Monday, the court said the map created by Republicans in 2011 was drawn to discriminate against Democrats.

With it, the GOP has consistently held 13 of the state's 18 congressional districts despite the fact that voters are pretty evenly divided between the parties.

According to Michael Li, senior redistricting counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, this is the first time a court has relied on general provisions of a state constitution to strike down gerrymandered district lines. And that, he says, is huge.

"It means that there is now a potential second front in the war against partisan gerrymandering that there wasn't before that doesn't depend on what the U.S. Supreme Court does," he explains.

The General Assembly has until Feb. 9 to submit a new district plan to Gov. Tom Wolf.

Republicans in the state Senate say they will request a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Li maintains the federal high court would have little if any reason to intervene.

"This is a decision that was solely based on the Pennsylvania Constitution and provisions that actually predate the U.S. Constitution, and so it's really hard to see what basis they would have for appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court," he points out.

Supporters of redistricting note that a more impartial map also would put more Republicans in Democratic districts, making elections more competitive overall.

Li explains that many state constitutions have broader protections for electoral rights than the U.S. Constitution, so the ruling in the Pennsylvania court could serve as a model for other states.

"State courts oftentimes look to each other for guidance on how to handle issues where they have similar provisions, so the Pennsylvania decision could be really persuasive and helpful to other courts," he states.

The court has ordered that a new district plan be in place by Feb. 19, in time for primary elections coming up in May.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA