Supreme Court Releases Majority Opinion in Redistricting Case

PA Judicial Center

Two days ahead of the deadline for the state legislature the state Supreme Court released the majority opinion detailing its new standard for Congressional maps in the state.

The court ruled the map unconstitutional on on January 22nd, but did not release the majority opinion until this Wednesday.  

In the ruling, authored by Justice Debra Todd, cites Article I, Section 5 of the state Constitution as the justification for the court throwing out the 2011 maps.  

The court ruled that district lines can be redrawn to preserve some district lines, protect incumbents, and maintain political balance in the state, but that those considerations should be subordinate to politically neutral districts and that “gerrymandering for unfair partisan political advantage” would be unconstitutional.  

The court set a standard for new Congressional maps as “neutral criteria of compactness, contiguity, minimization of the division of political subdivisions, and maintenance of population equality among congressional districts…provide a ‘floor’ of protection for an individual against the dilution of his or her vote in the creation of such districts.”

Drew Crompton, the Senate’s top lawyer, told the Post-Gazette that the court’s decision raised new questions, including how much politics can play a role in drawing maps.  Crompton also said that the court is positioning itself to usurp the legislature’s role in drawing maps.  

“It’s saying, ‘Apply these standards when you draw new maps, but we reserve the right to throw them out if we don’t like them,” Crompton said.  

David Gersch of Arnold & Porter, one of the lawyers representing the petitioners, celebrated the court’s decision calling it an “historic opinion” and that it “recognizes partisan gerrymandering’s corrosive effects on representative democracy and provides enduring protections for Pennsylvania voters.”

14 Responses

  1. Pretty much a standard court opinion- know the result you want and find reasons to get there. Instead of the proper way which is to look at the arguments and figure out the result. Just another bad PASC opinion and another court that failed to do its job

  2. Bad maps, everyone knows it. Draw better maps and develop a system that removes the temptation for such power grabs. Let your policies, practices and behavior be the reasons you hold office not dishonest political parlor tricks.

  3. Wecht wrote a scathing opinion against a prosecutor when he was a Superior Court Judge. He admonished the prosecutor for being biased and what he called, unethical. Yet, Wecht campaigned across the State talking about the unfairness in the Congressional maps. He was clearly against it. I agree, they should be redone. The problem is that Wecht should have recused himself from this case. He clearly had an opinion and there is no way he could have been fair and impartial. There are You Tube videos of him stating his case. I’m sure the Republicans could have asked him to recuse himself before the hearing, but they gave him the benefit of the doubt. I watched the hearings on PCN and it was so obvious as to Wecht’s biased nature, it was sad. Even when he was schooled by the Republican attorneys, he thought he was right. This just goes to show his ego and impartiality. I also agree Wecht wrote this opinion and not Todd, simply because of the delay. It was ready to go on the day the motions were filed against Wecht and I believe it was held back because of this. How would this look for the court if he would have authored the opinion then get hit with this motion? Not very good. They did what they had to do and have Todd sign her name. Just my .02!

    1. Ron K

      The republicans campaigned against abortion rights. Guess they should recuse themselves.

      The problem with your argument is that extreme gerrymandering is wrong, and PA’s maps have been a national embarrassment, and the poster child of partisan government abuse.

      Being for fairly drawn maps is not the disqualification you pretend, any more than being for equal rights, voting rights, or free speech.
      Wecht didn’t campaign on drawing biased maps for dems, nor a particular map. Advocating for a fair, non-partisan map and process is what a judge should be doing. The plaintiffs still had to make their case, and demonstrate how unfair the 2011 map was, and offer criteria for judging the fairness of a map. These criteria are consistent with the past decade of academic research into political maps and scoring them.

      The GOP argument in favor of the 2011 map boils down to wanting one more cycle of an unfair map.

  4. While I cannot say for sure who actually wrote the long anticipated and delayed majority opinion nor how then Judge Wecht personally characterized his opposition to the current congressional districts during the 2015 election. However, during that run, his campaign manager did repeatedly make in crystal clear, with absolutely no ambiguity, to Democratic activists that a primary and overwhelming reason to place the Judge on the High Court was to throw out these district. NTW, did anyone else happen to notice that one of the attorneys arguing this case before Justice Wecht and the state Supreme Court was also a key member of his then Finance Committee.

  5. On an earlier post, it was noted that…a decade ago…the PA districts were designed to protect inter-alia DEM-Murtha; in my view, this litigation was timed to be heard by Dem-dominated judges and, thus, it’s not desirable to rush the outcome into this year’s races.

    On the other hand, I have been proven incorrect in one way, namely, that I didn’t predict the DoS would sever the two petition-drive time-frames; one would think that this will wreak havoc, but one would expect that anything emanating from the Supremes would be subject to further federal court challenge based upon the claim that specifics would be imperfect and…therefore, that no practicable reason would exist to alter the current structure in such a tight time-frame.

    Perhaps I’ll be incorrect again but, regardless of the ultimate outcome, the redistricting after 2020 will probably be based far more on how the SCOTUS rules on its docket than on what is done this month in PA; ultimately, with so many open R-seats, this may actually be a great year for such a scramble to have emerged!

    1. The federal courts won’t touch this unless there’s an equal protection or due process problem. Federalism is still alive and well in this country.

      1. It seems that there is, indeed, the key-issue you suggest would prompt the potential for federal involvement…

        “An election corrupted by extensive, sophisticated gerrymandering and partisan dilution of votes is not ‘free and equal,’” wrote Justice Debra McCloskey Todd. “In such circumstances, a ‘power, civil or military,’ to wit, the General Assembly, has in fact ‘interfere[d] to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.’”

        htt ps://whyy.o rg/articles/pa-supreme-court-details-violation-voter-rights-full-opinion-striking-congressional-map/

        … and, remember, the initial effort didn’t yet have a “matured” entity that could claim to be an injured party that – in turn – could yield standing.

        Thus, after the state-level efforts play-out, the federal court involvement could be revisited.

  6. Let’s see: a Democrat was out of line to notice the gerrymandering that was the main example across the country, but it’s not a problem that the Republican Party’s own website listed their candidates’ positions on choice [against it].

  7. Debra Todd didn’t write the opinion, Wecht did. He didn’t release it because of the motion to have him recused from the case because of his clearly bias and arrogant comments at the hearing. Wecht just handed the opinion to Todd to add a few sentences and have her sign it.

    1. That is a lie. You just randomly pulled a conspiracy theory out of your ass. It’s unfortunate but telling that Republicans can win supporters this way. It just goes to show how
      much Fox has poisoned a large chunk of this country, who no longer live in reality. Shame on you.

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  • When Should The Special Elections For The PA House Be Held?

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