On Monday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito rejected a request from top Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers to put on hold an order from the state Supreme Court that the commonwealth’s congressional districts be redrawn. Last month, the Democratic-controlled Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the current map of 18 districts violated the state constitution “clearly, plainly and palpably,” and ordered the boundaries to be redrawn immediately. The justices gave the Republican-controlled state Legislature until Feb. 9 — Friday — to pass a redrawn map, and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf until Feb. 15 to submit it to the court. “Otherwise, the justices said they will adopt a plan in an effort to keep the May 15 primary election on track,” The Associated Press reported.
A memo to state lawmakers: You’re supposed to conduct your business in those elegantly appointed legislative chambers that have been provided to you.
Not in the courts.
Alas, the debate over redistricting in Pennsylvania is being played out in lawyers’ offices and courtrooms rather than in the General Assembly.
To wit: After Republicans lost on redistricting in the state Supreme Court dominated by Democrats, they asked for a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Justice Alito, a conservative, rejected their plea. The “fact that Alito did not refer the request to the full court ... strongly suggests that he did not view the case as an even remotely close call,” noted SCOTUSblog, a reliable source on matters pertaining to the nation’s highest court.
Nevertheless, the legal maneuverings persist. State Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and House Speaker Mike Turzai issued a joint statement Monday saying they “will do our best to comply with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s (Jan. 22) order, but may be compelled to pursue further legal action in federal court.”
Scarnati and Turzai would like to sideline Democratic state Supreme Court justices David Wecht and Christine Donohue. (Republicans and Democrats have exchanged fire over campaign contributions made to members of the state’s highest court, according to Philly.com). Scarnati also has defied a state Supreme Court order to hand over congressional district data.
A rank-and-file Republican lawmaker has gone a different route, circulating a memo calling for the impeachment of the Democratic justices who ruled the GOP-drawn map unconstitutional. His effort may be intended to garner headlines, but at least it’s a legislative one.
The sound and fury over the state Supreme Court ruling is a measure of just how much the Republican Party has to lose if the state’s congressional map is redrawn.
With the 2018 midterm elections — and the threat of a “blue wave” — looming, the state GOP wants to maintain the congressional map drawn after the 2010 census. It has, after all, enabled Pennsylvania Republicans to win 13 of 18 congressional seats — despite being outnumbered by registered Democrats in the commonwealth by a margin of more than 808,000.
But in life, as in football, complaining about the refs is a mug’s game. (Feel free to complain, however, about Cris Collinsworth’s color commentary during Super Bowl LII, when — have we mentioned it yet? — the Philadelphia Eagles prevailed over the New England Patriots.)
The reality is that because Republicans were in power after the 2010 census, they rigged the game in their favor; that’s the wont of whichever party is in power. But now the jig is up.
Voters on both sides of the political aisle have come to recognize just how ridiculously gerrymandered Pennsylvania’s congressional districts are. Even Lancaster County GOP Chair Dave Dumeyer told The New York Times that he’s not in love with the way the current map splits this county; he’d like to see the county made whole again.
In the last redistricting, seven very red municipalities in eastern Lancaster County previously in the 16th District became part of the 7th, to make it safer for Republicans.
The 7th is now represented by the beleaguered GOP Rep. Pat Meehan, who, after revelations that he used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim, has announced he won’t seek re-election.
That is the district that virtually makes the case against gerrymandering by itself.
Described as looking like Goofy kicking Donald Duck’s derriere, it doesn’t just divide municipalities, it slices and dices neighborhoods as if they were carved up with a Ginsu knife.
So it’s not a matter of whether Pennsylvania was unfairly gerrymandered to one political party’s advantage. It’s a matter of when sanity will be restored to redistricting.
We prefer that a citizens commission, like one proposed by the nonpartisan group Fair Districts PA, be charged with the task of drawing legislative districts.
But time is of the essence here. And while we think Rep. Cris Dush’s call for impeaching the Democratic justices is silly, we certainly don’t want to see the congressional map drawn by the state Supreme Court.
So lawmakers need to get the job done.
Yes, Friday is a tight deadline. But it’s not as if the royal cartographer has to be summoned to the palace with his compasses and triangles and quills. We’re guessing computer-generated maps already exist. The chosen map just needs to pass the fairness test.
If that stands a chance of happening, lawmakers are going to need to put aside partisan political interests and choose a map that best advances democracy and the power of the individual vote.
No more packing one party’s voters into fewer districts to minimize their power. And no more cracking apart districts, divvying up municipalities and communities, for political advantage. Voters choose lawmakers; lawmakers shouldn’t choose their voters.
So select a map that enables Pennsylvania voters to cast meaningful votes. And instead of relying on a gerrymandered map, make your best case to voters — and let the chips fall where they may.
— LNP newspaper