PA Republicans ask U.S. Supreme Court to step in
WASHINGTON, DC — In the aftermath of a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that congressional districts are unconstitutional because they are too gerrymandered, Republican lawmakers in Harrisburg have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule the state court.
In the last two election cycles, Republicans have won 13 of the state’s 18 congressional districts even though voters have been split almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the maps must be redrawn by February 9.
The state court determined that the districts violate the state constitution’s guarantee of free and fair elections, and the decision made clear that the state constitution was the sole basis for the court’s decision. Normally, that would mean the U.S. Supreme Court would not take up the matter, and it’s not yet clear if the federal justices are going to wade into the issue.
It is clear that the Republicans think the state judges have over-stepped their authority. In their appeal to the high court on January 25, the Republicans wrote, “[F]or the first time in United States history, a state court, in attempting to play the role of ‘lawmaker,’ has invalidated a congressional districting plan without identifying a violation of the U.S. Constitution or a state constitutional or statutory provision providing specific redistricting criteria.”
Republicans argue that if the state ruling stands, state courts across the country would be free to impose many types of restrictions on state legislatures, which draw state and federal districts in most states.
The court has said specific violations of the state constitution would be coming in a decision that has not yet been written.
Gerrymandering has going on for many decades, but lately it has become more extreme thanks to digital technology, according to Caral Kuniholm, chair of the advocacy group called Fair Districts PA.
She said at a public event on the issue that 20 years ago, no one had mapping technology on their smartphones. She also said, “Now we also have data-mining technology, which is able to record all kinds of things, like how you voted, how you spend your money, what your education is. All of that information is pulled together and is made available to the people who are drawing these maps. So they know block by block, how that block voted, how many people on that block voted, when those people vote, do they vote in every election, or every other election. All of that information is available, and I promise you, all of the information is used.”
Fair Districts PA advocates for the creation of an independent commission to redraw districts in the state.