Pennsylvania court upholds gerrymandering charge

Justices throw out Pennsylvania congressional map

Justices throw out Pennsylvania congressional map

In brief order handed down on Monday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that that state's gerrymandered congressional maps violate the state constitution. The court has ordered the GOP-controlled legislature to draw a new map by February 15, in time for the 2018 elections, but Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf will certainly veto any new gerrymander if Republicans attempt to pass one.

The ruling could have a major impact on the race for control of the US House in 2018, where Democrats are targeting several Philadelphia-area House seats.

Democrats now hold just five of Pennsylvania's 18 House seats - despite the fact President Barack Obama carried the state twice, while President Donald Trump won it by less than one point in 2016.

A new map could give Democratic candidates a chance to capture as many as half a dozen Republican seats in Pennsylvania alone, with national polls showing voters strongly favoring Democrats in 2018.

Pennsylvania was a key Rust Belt state that helped Donald Trump capture the White House in the 2016 presidential election.

Republicans now control both houses of the general assembly, setting up another potential battle over a map that now has the GOP in control of 12 of the state's 18 congressional districts.

In an important backdrop to this decision, Democrats won a pivotal majority on the state Supreme Court in the 2015 elections, giving the plaintiffs a fair shot at invalidating the GOP's map.

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Given how often state and federal courts have knocked these gerrymanders down over their blatant unconstitutionality, one can wish Republicans might engage in a little self-reflection.

The decision by the Pennsylvania court comes just a week after the U.S. Supreme Court delayed a lower court order in North Carolina that would have forced that state to redraw its congressional district as well.

"It shows there may be a second front in the war against gerrymandering that does not depend on what the U.S. Supreme Court does or does not do in the Wisconsin and Maryland cases", Li said. Last week, a North Carolina court struck down the partisan gerrymandering in that state. And crucially, this legal challenge relied exclusively on the state constitution's guarantees of free speech and equal protection rights.

The New York Times notes that the state's GOP legislators are vowing to immediately appeal this decision in federal court, but that's unlikely to go anywhere, given that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court based their decision on principles within the state's constitution, including equal protection.

Justice Baer agrees that the map is unconstitutional, but in his opinion, believes their decision should be applied to the 2020 election cycle.

The special election in the 18th District, scheduled for March is not impacted by this order.

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