Federal court declines to block new PA districts
WASHINGTON, DC — A federal three-judge panel ruled on March 19 that it would not step into the redistricting process in Pennsylvania, and therefore the new map drawn by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, with a consultant, will be the map used in the state for the congressional election this fall.
Sen. Jacob Corman, Sen. Michael Folmer and eight Republican Congressman from the Keystone State had appealed the ruling from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and asked the court to invalidate the new maps.
The panel denied the appeal, which argued that the actions of the state court violated the elections clause of the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs also claimed that the state court usurped the state assembly’s authority to establish election districts.
The federal court wrote, “In short, the Plaintiffs invite us to opine on the appropriate balance of power between the Commonwealth’s legislature and judiciary in redistricting matters, and then to pass judgment on the propriety of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s actions under the United States Constitution. These are things that, on the present record, we cannot do.”
The Republican leadership had submitted a new redistricting map to the state court, but the state court found it to be as gerrymandered as the existing one. The federal court said it could not impose the Republican version of the map, because that map had not been voted on by the entire Pennsylvania Assembly, which is required by the state constitution. The Republicans had argued that the short time-frame set for the process left no time for a full vote.
Another reason, among many, for the court saying it could not rule in favor of the Republicans, was because of a previous U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding the Arizona legislature. In that case, the full court wrote, “A core principle of republican government [is] that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”
In that decision the U.S. Supreme Court also wrote, “Nothing in [the Elections] Clause instructs, nor has this Court ever held, that a state legislature may prescribe regulations on the time, place, and manner of holding federal elections in defiance of provisions of the State’s constitution,” which was what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had ruled.
Republican Senators Joe Scarnati, Corman and Folmer issued a statement that said, “This Middle District Court case was dismissed on the legal issue of standing, not on the facts of the case. We still believe these issues in this case are vital constitutional questions that deserve to be heard, including the PA Supreme Court taking on the role of creating legislation. The state court’s decision to draw maps takes us down a path for the creation of another legislative body in Pennsylvania.”
Deomcratic Governor Tom Wolf said, “The people of Pennsylvania are tired of gerrymandering, and the new map corrects past mistakes that created unfair Congressional Districts and attempted to diminish the impact of citizens’ votes.”
Locally that will have an impact on Wayne and Pike counties, which will become part of the new PA 8th Congressional District, which will also include all of Lackawanna, Monroe and part of Luzerne County. Perhaps more significantly, the district will now also include the cities of Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, which have a much higher concentration of Democrats than the surrounding areas. Analysts say the district still leans Republican. However, the new district map should make it much easier for a Democrat to compete for the seat; in the overturned district map, the cities of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre are purposely excluded in a classic gerrymandered configuration.