Court Rules PA Legislative Districts Must Be Redrawn

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In a state where there are 4 million registered Democrats and 3.2 million registered Republicans, only five of the state's 18 members of Congress are Democrat.

And the effects of the court's order could have a palpable effect on the upcoming elections, especially in a swing state like Pennsylvania where Democrats now only claim 5 out of 18 of the state's congressional districts.

The court ruling says the state General Assembly must submit a new plan for congressional districts that satisfies the requirements of the state constitution to the governor before February 9, and if the governor accepts the plan, it must go to the Supreme Court by February 15. If those deadlines are missed, the court said, it will draft a new map itself, with input from the parties.

The Pennsylvania congressional map has been notorious since its first use, in 2012, when Republicans won (and have subsequently held) 13 of the state's 18 House seats despite losing a majority of the popular vote. They said that's always been the case and that the state law allows it.

"No matter how you cut this, this is a federal court issue", said Drew Crompton, chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County. District courts typically have been loathe to step into cases and rulings based on state Constitutions unless they are seen to violate the U.S. Constitution. The high court has never struck down an appointive guide as a factional gerrymander. That Republican-led court is now looking at two other cases from Maryland and Wisconsin.

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The group alleged that Republicans acted in secret in 2011 to design a map that deliberately packed Democratic voters into five districts, maximizing the GOP advantage everywhere else.

The case split the Pennsylvania Supreme Court largely along partisan lines.

A panel of federal judges in North Carolina two weeks ago threw out that state's Republican-drawn map as illegally gerrymandered and ordered new lines drawn, a potential boost to Democrats in U.S. House races in that state. On a new map, however, it could become much more Democratic-leaning.

The Court also ruled that the May 2018 primary will not be moved and that districts should amend the election calendar, including the filing and circulation of petitions.

A proposal that would begin the process for a change to the state constitution to create an independent commission to draw the maps has stalled in the Legislature. The court's order did not specify how the map runs afoul of the law but said a full opinion will be released in the future.

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