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PA Supreme Court Orders Gerrymandering Suit to Proceed

If successful, the lawsuit could change voting district lines before the 2018 election. (Tom Prete/Flickr)
If successful, the lawsuit could change voting district lines before the 2018 election. (Tom Prete/Flickr)
November 14, 2017

HARRISBURG, Pa. – A ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court could result in a new election district map in the Keystone State. Experts say Pennsylvania has one of the most gerrymandered congressional and legislative district maps in the country.

Although voters are pretty evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, the GOP controls 13 of the state's 18 congressional seats.

Mimi McKenzie, legal director of the Public Interest Law Center, which represents individual voters in the case, says the ruling could pave the way for major changes by next November.

"If we are successful in proving our case to the court, then Pennsylvania voters will have a new and fair map in time for the 2018 election," she says.

The trial is scheduled to begin on December 11.

The Commonwealth Court had put the case on hold pending the outcome of a Wisconsin gerrymandering case now before the U.S. Supreme Court. But according to McKenzie, a ruling on the federal case would not change a decision by the state court in Pennsylvania.

"We have filed claims under the free-expression and free-association clauses as well as the equal protection guarantees of the Pennsylvania Constitution, so, because we've brought different claims, the Wisconsin case can't moot our case," she explains.

Pennsylvania's congressional district maps are also being challenged in federal district court. Oral arguments in that case were heard last week.

McKenzie points out that in both the federal case and Commonwealth Court, judges have raised questions about a process that could yield the bizarrely-shaped districts that characterize Pennsylvania's electoral maps.

"That didn't happen by chance, and when you have districts that are so manipulated, common sense tells you that this could have only happened with partisan intent," she adds.

If the court rules the district lines are unconstitutional, the governor and the Legislature could be ordered to redraw the map, or one of the courts may appoint an independent master to draw the new lines.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA