Federal judges reject Republican challenge to Pennsylvania district maps

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court released an updated state congressional map on February 19, redistricting the University of Pennsylvania from the 2nd Congressional District to the 3rd Congressional District - a map drawn by former Penn Law professor Nathaniel Persily.

Pennsylvania's GOP has been dealt a string of blows over the last few months, starting with losing a gerrymandering case in the state Supreme Court and, last week, losing one of its heavily gerrymandered congressional seats to a Democratic candidate.

Pennsylvania Republicans argued that the state court ruling violated the U.S. Constitution by stripping the legislature of its power to draw voting maps.

This is a developing story. "As far as we can tell on this record, the Elections Clause claims asserted in the verified complaint belong, if they belong to anyone, only to the Pennsylvania General Assembly".

The state Supreme Court, in a 4-3 split, set one deadline for the legislature to submit a new map for consideration and another deadline for Democratic Gov. Wolf to review it. "The Plaintiffs' frustration with the process by which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court implemented its own redistricting map is plain", the judges wrote.

The broader point here is two-fold: 1) This is a major win for Democrats hoping to retake the House majority this November and 2) If the Court ultimately decides that extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, it will have a profound effect on how maps gets drawn - and who controls the House majority - in 2021 and beyond.


In his 2005 essay 'When Judges Carve Democracies, ' Persily called maps drawn up by courts a "last resort" and an "emergency measur [e]". "The people of Pennsylvania are exhausted of gerrymandering and the new map corrects past mistakes that created unfair Congressional Districts and attempted to diminish the impact of citizens' votes", Gov. Tom Wolf said. The GOP has been fighting the court order ever since and the U.S. Supreme Court denied an early request to put a stay on the map.

The court ruled in January the current districts violated the state's constitution.

The previous map was drafted to aid Republican candidates and proved to be a campaign victor for them, leading the GOP to a 13-5 edge in the state's congressional delegation for all three elections in which it was used.

In a brief urging the United States Supreme Court not to intercede, lawyers for Mr. Wolf wrote that there were practical reasons to let the state court's rulings stand. Nor do the congressmen have proper standing, they said.

Republicans have been fighting the new map because they believe it was created by partisan judges. That argument did not appear to gain traction with Justice Alito.

  • Tracy Klein