On Monday, Jan. 22, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that the current representation of the state’s congressional map is a product of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering. The General Assembly has until Feb. 15 to establish a new map signed by Governor Tom Wolf, and a failure to do so will result in the Court adopting its own boundaries.
The Court ordered the PA General Assembly to turn over their files that “contain the current boundaries of all PA municipalities and precincts” by Wednesday, Jan. 31. Following this order, State Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson County) announced his refusal to turn over such documents, citing an argument made in the past that the PA Supreme Court is overstepping its authority in this ruling and does not have the power to act as a legislature to have districts redrawn.
Scarnati and House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny County) petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to block the PA Supreme Court’s ruling. In their petition, their lawyers wrote, “the question in this case is whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the Pennsylvania ‘Legislature’ under the federal Constitution, and the answer to that question is a resounding no.”
In response to this petition to the Supreme Court, State Representative Carolyn Comitta (D., Chester County) stated, “I support the right of any defendant to pursue and appeal to a higher court. In this case, I believe it will be up to SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) whether to hear the appeal and if so to determine if SCOTUS has the authority to rule on this SCOPA (Supreme Court of Pennsylvania) ruling.”
In terms of the SCOPA ruling, she stated, “I support this SCOPA ruling 100 percent. As the saying goes, people should choose their elected officials, not the other way around! Such egregious gerrymandering as we see in PA disenfranchises millions of voters. As the League of Women Voters says, ‘Your vote is your voice!’ I want all voices to be heard and all votes to count. Redrawing PA’s congressional districts as soon as possible is the right thing to do for our citizens, our voters.”
This ruling comes at a pivotal time with the 2018 Congressional elections right around the corner. The Associated Press conducted an analysis scrutinizing the results of all 435 U.S. House races and about 4,700 state House and Assembly seats that were up for election in 2016.
This analysis considered the likelihood that one party would win based on the average vote share in a certain congressional district, and then compared it with the actual result of that election. This report showed four times as many states with gerrymandered districts ended up benefiting the Republican party, particularly in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and Virginia. These congressional districts were all drawn by Republicans after the 2010 census.
In Pennsylvania, 13 of the 18 congressional seats went to Republicans in 2016, which was three more than anticipated based on both parties’ vote share, despite the number of votes cast being evenly split between both major parties. Pennsylvania ranks among the most skewed maps in the country, with the notorious Seventh District outside of Philadelphia referred to as “Goofy kicking Donald Duck” by NPR’s show “On The Media” due to its distorted drawing. Democrats and other critics claim that the district was drawn in this manner to protect Republican Pat Meehan’s seat.
Constituents will watch to see if this case will be settled by the mid-February deadline, as protests and refusals to comply with the PA Supreme Court coming from top Republicans could potentially bring this issue to the U.S. Supreme Court. Drew Crompton, an attorney for Senate Republicans, stated that, “this is a federal court issue. It’s under the federal Constitution . . . and we suspect the U.S. Supreme Court will have an interest in this.”
Alex Shakhazizian is a fourth-year student majoring in political science with a minor in journalism. ✉️ AS823512@wcupa.edu.