Pa. Supreme Court Throws Out Congressional Maps

The state Supreme Court in a 4-3 vote ruled the current Congressional maps are unconstitutional and need to be submitted to the Governor by February 9th.

“First, the Court finds as a matter of law that the Congressional Redistricting Act of 2011 clearly, plainly and palpably violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and, on that sole basis, we hereby strike it as unconstitutional,” the per curiam order reads.  

The court ruled that the legislature must submit the plan to the Governor by February 9th, and then the Governor must submit the plan to the Supreme Court by February 15th.  If the legislature and Governor do not comply by the order, the maps will be drawn by the court after hearing from all parties in the current case.  

The court put forth new guidelines for the legislature to follow when drawing the new map, including “compact and contiguous territory; as nearly equal in population as practicable; and which do not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary.”  

The court ordered that the Department of State must “anticipate that a congressional districting plan will be available by February 19, 2018, and are directed to take all measures, including adjusting the election calendar if necessary, to ensure that the May 15, 2018 primary election takes place as scheduled under that remedial districting plan.”  

This could mean moving the deadlines for petitions and petition challenges, but not moving the date of the primary election.  Currently, petitions can be circulated from February 13th until March 6th.  

The court specifically references the current special election in the 18th Congressional district, saying it will take place using the current Congressional map.

71 Responses

  1. Doesn’t matter how reasonable this map looks, and yes, it does look tighter than the obviously gerrymandered ones every other political actor had submitted. No court has the Constitutional function of drawing maps. At most a court can declare a map unconstitutional and remand the map-making process back to the legislative process, where all maps are supposed to originate. This is a judicial usurpation of legislative duties. I am pretty sure the US Supreme Court will override this.

  2. I’ll only support re-drawing if we couple it with stringent voter ID laws and fraud investigations. But silly me that’s a waste of time since there has never been a single case of voter fraud ever in the history of the United States (except for Putin single-handedly stealing the election for Trump of course)

  3. David –

    My response wasn’t posting, presumably because I linked to an image, so I’ll respond to you an others here.

    Even if the map is”unconstitutional as drawn” (which I don’t agree with), there’s a legal standard for the timing of re-drawing. A court needs to determine “whether the imminence of [the primary and] general elections requires the utilization of [a prior plan] notwithstanding [its] invalidity” or whether a constitutional map “can practicably be effectuated” in time for the pending election. In other words, even if the map is unconstitutional, there comes a point in time where it’s too late to re-draw. I agree with Justice Baer, that such time has passed here.

    On a broader point, I agree that gerrymandering is wrong. But it isn’t new and both parties abuse their power when the opportunity presents itself. Look at North Carolina under Democratic control in 1990 vs. GOP control in 2010. If you haven’t looked at Maryland’s map, gerrymandered by Democrats, please do so. Currently, the the GOP just happens to control many more state governments than the Dems do.

    Maybe you agree — my view is that geographic compactness should be the driving factor. If that results in a map yielding a congressional delegation consistent with statewide party registration numbers, then so be it. If not, then so be it. A prospective constituency’s stats for race, age, sex, political party, etc. shouldn’t be a factor. Just my opinion. Which leads to my next point . . .

    This is an inherently political question, not a legal question. The framers of our constitution understood this when the reserved the map-drawing power to the popularly elected legislatures in each state. Then and today, everyone and their mother has an opinion on what the map-drawing criteria should be. For example, in the past some advocated “minority-majority” districts to ensure representation for African Americans. Others have since criticized that mindset, saying that boxing those minorities into one district actually limits their collective influence.

    When courts indulge requests to answer political questions, you run into the problem we had yesterday. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania just ruled a map as unconstitutional and didn’t (couldn’t?) articulate exactly why. What provision(s) was/were violated? What are the new legal standards that the map drawers must meet? What bright line tests can determine a seat as being “safe” for one party vs. “swing” to be competed for?

    1. The Sanhedrin have spoken how dare you question.
      I’d hate to turn this into a lame partisan hack-post but it sure is interesting this only happened only after PA’s surprise swing to Trump in 2018.

    2. Reasonable, just a clarification. The Framers didn’t commit redistricting to the legislatures specifically; they said that the “time, place, and manner of choosing … Representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof,” subject to federal law. Which basically just means that the legislature has to pass a legislative act; it doesn’t mean the legislature can’t be opposed by a governor’s veto or constitutional requirements or even Progessive age referendum or reassigning that power to an independent commission. That’s what the Arizona case was about.

      And it’s one thing to recognize that partisan or political decisions have to be made. Of course the GA might have one map that follows traditional rules and favors R’s and can choose that over one that follows traditional rules and favors D’s. But partisan advantage being the primary or even a major goal to the detriment of those traditional goals is where the problem lies.

      Personally I’d prefer a map that makes the VRA districts then divides up the rest of the territory based on compactness. I’m with you: let the chips fall where they may then. It’s at least better than whiplashing between D and R extreme gerrymanders.

  4. For the 9th 11th and 15th which will all undoubtedly change, this is a good excuse for whoever was at the bottom of the pack to get out.

  5. I’ll take a fair fight over this partisan gerrymandering nonsense any day of the week, whether it is Pennsylvania, Texas, California, or Maryland. When Congressmen are more concerned about nutjob primary challengers from the fringes than they are with winning a General, then they naturally tack to the fringes instead of the center. That’s how we ended up with the “Freedom” Caucus hardliners who would rather burn it all down than actually govern.

  6. There is nothing in the constitution or the law that makes the current map unconstitutional. This is just Judges wanting to be legislators !

    1. And you’re a certified idiot. It is unconstitutional that I and other PA07 voters have to vote in confines that resemble Donald Duck kicking goofy.

      It also violates the state constitution that explicitly states district boundaries must be compact and congruent.

  7. And if the Legislature laughs it off, then what?
    They are an independent branch of government.

    1. Then the Supreme Court will appoint a special master to draw the maps if legislators and the Republican majority can’t do what we pay them to do.

  8. Why isn’t this just called the Gleason Decision. The decision of the GOP Chairman and others within the power structure to collide with the Democrats and lay down in the 2017 Court Elctions. That cycle just like this one was an embarrassment for the GOP. The wrong candidates with not enough resources were lead to electoral slaughter in off year elections that should always go to GOP.

  9. This was a waste of everyone’s time. This was strictly a party line vote and the justices had their minds made up before hearing the case. Baer was the only one who got the argument. The best was when the egotistical David Wecht was embarrassed by the GOP lawyers. The Supreme Court of the United States will issue a stay this week until they decide the case for the nation in June. The justices knew this would happen and they are about to look like a bunch of fools, which they are.

    1. Hey dummy, the plaintiffs based their reasoning on state law and the PA Constitution. This case was in state court, not federal. The majority in this ruling based their decision on solely the state constitution. The federal courts have no ability to take over state court rulings based on that states Constitution

    2. Actually, Chief Justice Saylor, a Republican, didn’t dispute that the map was unconstitutional. He just disagreed with the timing of the decision and the relief.

  10. I was at the Western PA 2011 redistricting hearing with a plan. There was NO Democrats or whinning citizens there. This was after Republican had a wave year cause the Tea Party & Sarah Palin endorsed candidates made Republican the Majority party in the US House. They won cause they were good candidates and now with President Trump in the White House they can get good thing done. From past experience with the PA Supreme Court I have no faith in any plan that they can come up with. I spent several weeks researching census data to present a plan for 4 districts in W PA CD 12 18 14 3

  11. “I’m a Democrat and I supported redistricting reform when Democrats controlled both the U.S. House and Senate, as well as the White House.” – No One Ever

    But this isn’t political in any way….

    1. Please… these maps drawn by you and your tea party cohorts are egregious. Data mining and new technologies made this all too efficient for you to manipulate congressional districts across the country to surpress voter choice and representation

      1. It’s ok Johnny you didn’t lose the game…the other team definitely cheated and the umpire didn’t call the game fairly… but you definitely didn’t lose.

        Don’t forget your participation trophy. You worked really hard for that.

        Any of this familiar in your household? Just a hunch, but something is telling me it is.

        1. So you are complaining about the refs while also complaining about people complaining about the refs? There’s an impressive amount of cognitive dissonance here.

          The members of the PA Supreme Court were duly elected, are highly qualified jurists, and made a sound legal judgment based upon the text of the PA Constitution.

          1. People mention the 7th District a lot when talking about gerrymandering. I submit to you the “Danzig Corridor” that connects Reading in Berks County to Lancaster County and makes it part of the 16th.LOL, I was couple of blocks away from being in the 7th as well.

  12. PA actually has early elections, as some states don’t have primaries until the fall.
    Also, this decision is not appealable as it is based solely on the PA Constitution and does not involve federal law. And if it were, it would probably be to the US Supreme Court. It certainly wouldn’t be to the 5th Circuit as PA is in the 3rd Circuit.

  13. It’s comical reading all of these comments from posters who seem to honestly believe this was the Pennsylvania Supreme Ct doing the “noble thing” and removing politics from the redistricting process. This is nothing more than the Democrats using the only branch of government they’ve been able to win to manipulate the process in their favor. It’s not any more manipulative than gerrymandering the districts in the first place, but please spare us the “Democracy wins today” song and dance.

    1. Discounting the Governor and all state row offices, sure, the only branch we control. The gerrymandered legislature is the last hold out of the republicans in PA. Now that the SC has ruled in favor of ALL the people, we can finally have true representation.

      1. How are you not only losing the “gerrymandered” seats, but also a significant number of seats with democrat majorities? The map is not your problem.

        I’m actually happy about the ruling. It’ll be entertaining listening to you guys whine about the new creative reason your still losing elections next year.

        And just so we’re clear, a ham sandwich could have beaten Tom Corbett in the gov race. I’d be careful using that race as your political windsock. You may find yourself to be a touch overconfident.

        1. Judging by the mass exodus of SE republicans, that may soon be corrected. We’ll see how the turkey sandwich you put up against Gov. Wolf does

          1. You’re right. Losing Republicans that consistently voted with Democrats, and potentially replacing them with actual Democrats will be devastating blow. What will the Senate GOP do with only 32 of 50 and the House with only 120. The horror.

            And it was a HAM sandwich we lost with. A turkey and cheese would have cleaned Wolf’s clock.

    1. Indeed. I’m unsure why anyone would support gerrymandering. Many who do also shout “drain the swamp” and “we the people”, yet support the swampiest slap in the face of the people there is.

  14. The Court presupposes an appeal. They attempt to state time alloted is not a valid objection (not a bad move) but you can bet it will be a basis for the appeal as well as a stary of the order. Grounds, the democrat court seeks to have the democrat governor re-district the state, rather than the legislature.

    1. Tom Wolf will then Gerrymander the State for Democrats, resulting in the PA GOP taking it to the SCOTUS on the grounds that the PA Supreme Court violated the PA Constitution by rewriting it.

      1. The order says the legislature has to redraw it and the governor sign it, following typical law-making procedure. The legislature is Republican (based on gerrymandered districts) while the governor is a Democrat. It will be interesting to see if they can compromise or if the Court will have to choose a map.

        1. I’m particularly interested in seeing where in the constitution it says that the court is able to pull a magical date out of the sky and demand that the legislature adhere to it or risk losing their constitutionally mandated responsibility to draw these maps. Would love to see where that is written.

          And Jules, the legislature is 2/3 Republican because Democrats have a messaging problem. Nothing more. Republicans currently hold nearly a dozen seats that should be owned by the D’s based on voter registration. Riddle me that? What’s the excuse going to be when they redraw the maps and there is still a Republican majority?

    2. Who can they appeal to? It was decided on PA Constitutional grounds. PA Supreme Court has final say on that.

  15. This was predictable; is it possible that this suit wasn’t filed until most of this decade had elapsed because of the shift in political leanings of the Court?

    The potential-outcomes are fascinating to ponder, notwithstanding the lack of any constitutional mandate that a given candidate reside in the district in which he/she is running; this is particularly of-interest in the 7th, for it’s possible the old MontCo-dominated 13th could be restored.

    The specific concerns raised by “Reasonable Rep” would probably justify an appeal to the 5th Circuit, delaying its potential-imposition to a time when petition-circulation will already have been initiated; inasmuch as PA already holds “late” elections, it’s difficult to envision their being extended THIS YEAR into the summertime.

    1. Sklaroff-

      These cases are happening all over the country to attempt to end gerrymandering and draw fair districts. This includes states where the GOP is making the same arguments against Dem gerrymandering.

      The districts should be draw without any partisan registration information and use the census data and conform to county/township borders where practical.

      You just know that you and your right-wing crazies can’t win a fair fight with fair districts.

      1. Let’s not forget that Bob Brady, the corrupt leader of the corrupt Pa Democratic machine, went along with this corrupt Republican election map in exchange for redrawing of his own district that made it less susceptible to a primary challenge. Then he twisted Democratic arms in the Legislature to also go along. I am delighted by this court ruling, but Brady and the Democrats share responsibility for this gerrymander in the first place. It is time to throw primary all of these bums and replace them with progressives.

    2. 1. This wouldn’t be an appeal to a circuit court since it didn’t originate in a federal district court.
      2. PA’s not in the fifth circuit, so it’s be dumb to file an appeal there.

  16. At this point we all know Gerrymandering is real, and drawn perfeftlynto protect those in power. PA is a model across the nation for how bad Gerrymandering can be. So I applaud our judges for pushing politics aside and allowing the ppl to share their voice. Yes, this will make things screwy, mess with fundraising and probably close districts (that aren’t needed to begin with), but does that matter?! No. What matters is we have fair and free elections. Period.

  17. The decision makes a mockery of the whole process. It is so unfair to the candidates already running and incumbents who have no idea whether they will be living in any new districts created. The time constraints for the May elections are impossible. Worse, in 2020 there will be a census and all the districts must be redrawn. And, there is a special election soon in a district that might not exist this November. Clearly, our Supreme Court has no clue of politics in the real world assuming their decision is on a sound basis which is not my point. They should have stayed their decision until the next census.

    1. That’s the courts point, politics should not decide a district, the people of that district decide the district.

    2. You couldn’t be more wrong. The PA Supreme Court knew there was urgency. Which is why they quickly held a hearing and quickly made a decision. The PA legislature has less than a month to go to Harrisburg, which is what we pay them to do, and make up their own corrected maps by Feb 19. If they are not responsible enough to do the job they applied for and which we pay them for a living to do by that date, then the Supreme Court will do it for them. That will give state officials 3 months in advance to prepare which is more than enough time.

      The election in PA18 will be held under the old maps and not the new ones, as the Justices clearly state.

    3. Jake-

      It’s BEEN unfair to the voters. The maps have been unconstitutional.

      The “let them have one more cycle of unconstitutional districts” isn’t a good argument. (and was specifically rejected by the court)

    4. The 11th “will exist” in November (the Court Order explicitly says that the March Special Election will take place, and whoever re-draws the lines will not be skipping the number “11” when they do so.

      The Court did the RIGHT thing. And now, maybe both the redistricting commission (for state legislative districts) and the General Assembly (for Congressional districts) just might think twice in 2020/2021 when re-doing the lines.

      The May election will take place on time.

  18. This means I, hopefully, won’t have to vote in confines that resemble Donald Duck kicking Goofy. Awesome when fairness and democracy prevails.

  19. A troubling decision for several reasons.

    First, per Justice Baer’s concurring/dissenting opinion, even IF one believes the maps require re-drawing, implementing them in time for the spring primaries is not sensible. Candidates have been running for months, organizing, fundraising, seeking their party’s endorsements, etc. This is crazy.

    Second, as Justices Saylor and Mundy both point out in their dissents, the Court has baldly declared the map as “unconstitutional” without a specific explanation as to why. Numerous state constitutional claims, including the Speech Clause, the Free Association Clause, the Elections Clause and the Equal Protection Clause were raised by the litigants. Indeed, each involves a different legal analysis. If you’re going to order a re-drawing, the court should set forth specifically what needs addressed and why.

    Third, the court’s implied threat to do the re-drawing itself is at odds with the federal constitutional provision that explicitly reserves this function for the state legislatures.

    1. Translation: I love that my party – with less than half the registered voters – ends up with over 2/3 of the elected officials.

      Rock on, PA Supreme Dems!

      1. Translation: I’m unable to address any of those three points raised by the dissenting justices, none of which have anything to do with the political merits of the present map.

      2. Translation: I’m happy that the PA Democrat Controlled Supreme Court ordered the PA Congressional Districts be redrawn and GERRYMANDERED for Democrats!!

        1. Joe-

          No. The maps are to be drawn fairly/compactly in a non-partisan way. No gerrymandering.

          1. Democrats don’t respect the rule of law though. The PA Democrat Controlled Supreme Court will see to it that the State is GERRYMANDERED to favor Democrats by ensuring that FILTHY Philadelphia can dictate the State, just as Chicago dictates Illinois, which is the most GERRYMANDERED STATE IN THE UNION.

          2. Joe-

            That is not correct. We are insisting on a fairly drawn map, not a gerrymandered one for partisan advantage. A good map will look similar to older maps with simpler shapes.

    2. Reasonable Rep-

      1) It’s not “crazy”. It’s unconstitutional as drawn. The primaries could be moved back if necessary.

      2) The maps have been unconstitutional under ALL the arguments

      3) Court is equal branch of government and can redraw the map to satisfy constitutionality, especially to prevent the legislature from d*kcing around with another unconstitutional map.

    3. @ Reasonable Rep –> All the reasons you cite for delaying redistricting cannot match the obvious ethical imperative to overturn the current undemocratic rule by Republicans in a state that is solidly democratic. Republicans rule only because they cheated in redistricting after the 2010 Census. The writers of the PA constitution never imagined a world in which people would have computers and would be able to write sophisticated algorithms by which to subvert democracy by drawing strange “divide and conquer” legislative districts. Even if there is no clear clause in the Constitution, it is better to invent some creative reasoning so that the state can be run as a representative democracy, rather than the undemocratic rule by minority which now exists. To the counterclaim of “legislating from the bench is bad,” I would retort: “So is Tyranny.” I don’t see you revealing your political party, so until I hear otherwise, my assumption is always that people who are against democratic redistricting are all Republicans. So far, this assumption has held.

  20. Next move will be Corman, Scarnati, Turzai and Reed appealing to federal court. Interesting to see what approach their lawyers take in arguing federal jurisdiction since this was entirely brought under the auspices of the PA state constitution.

    1. That would be Republicans Corman, Scarnati, Turzai and Reed throw hail Mary against the will of the people of the Commonwealth.

    2. Good question. I would think they try to tie it back to Art 1, Section 4 of US Constitution and argue the ruling- while ostensibly on PA Const grounds- runs afoul of this section somehow. It ultimately fails, I think, but perhaps it’s what they pursue.

  21. Democratic PA Supreme Court Justices Todd, Donohue, Dougherty, and Wecht find PA Congressional map map

    “clearly, plainly and palpably violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth”

    Republicans Saylor, Mundy and Baer say all is hunky-dory.

    Maps thrown out 4-3

    Court elections matter too, people.

    There. Fixed that vague headline for ya.

    1. Sorry, Baer is a Dem. Perhaps it should read 80% of Dems vote against 100% of GOP Justices.

    2. Actually, Saylor said the map was probably unconstitutional, but he’d rather wait until there was more time to re-draw the map before an election and for guidance on a Fed appeal out of a different circuit (although it wouldn’t be binding on PA constitutional issues). The opinions (well, Orders- opinions to come)are right online- read them.

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