On Monday, Feb. 12, Justice Samuel Alito of the U.S. Supreme Court denied a plea from Republican leaders to block the redistricting of Pennsylvania’s congressional map, allowing a court-ordered redrawing to proceed. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled that the current drawing is unconstitutional and that new districting needed to be submitted to the court for review by Thursday, Feb. 15. Late Thursday night, Governor Wolf, along with registered Democratic and Republican voters who attempted to intervene in the case, all submitted their own maps.
The court then gave itself four additional days to consider said submissions and roll out the finalized version in time for the primary election in May. In the case that the justices don’t pick any of the submitted maps, they have selected Stanford University law professor Nathan Persily to draw one. Persily has previously assisted judges in drawing districts for North Carolina, New York, Connecticut, Georgia and Maryland.
Republicans in the General Assembly say that they plan on asking federal judges to block any new map produced by the court, arguing that a “Democratic-majority court had no power to invalidate the congressional boundaries or draw new ones,” according to usnews.com. Along with this, Republican Senate majority leader, Jake Corman, warned that this case and process could create chaos in Pennsylvania’s primaries and that the order to draw a new map would “unconstitutionally usurp the role of the governor and Legislature.”
Regarding the Stanford University professor who was selected, Corman stated, “We’re going to have a Stanford professor come into Pennsylvania, and he’s going to act as the prosecutor by presenting the evidence, he’s going to act as the juror by evaluating the evidence, and he solely is going to act as a judge by ultimately ruling on the evidence and producing a map—one person—to the court for the people of Pennsylvania to live under,” according to wskg.org.
West Chester University political science professor John Kennedy was retained as an expert “to provide analysis relevant to the composition of Pennsylvania’s congressional districts” and issued a report last November detailing the specifics of severity of the gerrymandering and the drastic disenfranchising effects it has had on the election process.
In the report he explains how gerrymandering has caused the “cracking” of the Democrat vote so the party couldn’t “form a larger, cohesive political voice.” Kennedy notes several examples of gerrymandering in the state, such as the infamous “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck” seventh district along with the fact that Erie County in the third congressional district was split in 2011 for “no apparent nonpartisan reason,” placing it into the overwhelmingly Republican fifth district.
Additionally, Kennedy noted how some districts were filled with voters of one party, essentially giving that party more votes than needed to win, thus wasting people’s votes.
The map that is under fire was drawn after the 2010 census, which resulted in winning extra Republican seats. In three elections, Republicans won 13 of 18 seats despite the fact that Pennsylvania’s elections are usually tight races and the fact that there are more registered Democrats than Republicans.
Republicans adjusted some of the boundaries in their revised map, but kept almost 70 percent of constituents in their old districts to “minimize disruption.” Governor Wolf rejected this map stating that it was just as gerrymandered as the previous map that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional.
The court gave no indication that incumbent lawmakers would retain or lose their seats after the new map is implemented, and didn’t give any direction to keep previous districts largely intact. The 2018 elections are right around the corner. With so many seats opening for the upcoming midterm election, it’s vital that this new map is as fair as possible.
Alex Shakhazizian is a fourth-year student majoring in political science with a minor in journalism. ✉ AS823512@wcupa.edu.