Just as not directed in Article II, Section 1, Paragraph 2 of the United States Constitution: Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct…
By Amber Phillips -Jan. 22, 2018 at 3:46 p.m. EST
In a decision that could tilt the congressional balance of power in a key swing state in favor of Democrats, Pennsylvania’s highest court decided Monday that the state’s GOP-drawn congressional districts violate its Constitution, and ordered all 18 districts redrawn in the next few weeks.
Less partisan congressional districts could give Democrats a chance this November to win back as many as half a dozen seats that had been lost to them over the past decade. It could also give the party a major boost in its quest to take back the House of Representatives, where Democrats need to net 24 seats to win control of the chamber.
In a 4-to-3 decision, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ordered the Republican-controlled state legislature to redraw the lines by Feb. 9, an extraordinarily quick timeline that will reset the districts in time for the state’s May congressional primaries. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf will have veto power over the maps.
“I strongly believe that gerrymandering is wrong and consistently have stated that the current maps are unfair to Pennsylvanians,” he said in a statement.
The state Supreme Court has a 5-to-2 Democratic majority 2015, and GOP lawmakers suggested the court ruled to benefit its own party. “It is clear that with this ruling the Court is attempting to bypass the Constitution and the legislative process and legislate themselves, directly from the bench,” said the top lawmakers in the state Senate and state House, Joe Scarnati and Jake Corman, respectively, in a joint statement.
Democrats say that getting maps redrawn is a critical step to taking back the House, which they haven’t controlled since 2010. It’s also not an understatement to say that Democrats’ political future could be on the line for the next decade if they don’t have a say in how the next decade’s worth of electoral maps are redrawn after the census comes out again in 2020.
Winning governor’s races is one way they had planned to put a stop to Republicans’ map-drawing abilities. But litigating the maps has been surprisingly effective. When a federal court threw out Wisconsin’s state House map in November 2016, it was the first time in a decade that a federal court had done so because the maps favored one party.
The Supreme Court has long been open to the idea that partisanship when drawing maps could be unconstitutional. In 1986, it said partisan gerrymandering in Illinois amounted to a constitutional violation, Pildes said. But the justices couldn’t agree on an objective way to measure partisanship. How much is too much, essentially?
Monday’s case wasn’t the only one involving Pennsylvania’s maps. A three-judge panel on a federal court recently sided with Republicans, though Pildes and other legal experts think Monday’s state Supreme Court decision will be the final word.
Legal analysts also weren’t sure that appealing to the Supreme Court is a possibility, given that Pennsylvania’s state court ruled that the lines violated the state Constitution. The Supreme Court has never thrown out a state’s redistricting plan because of extreme partisan gerrymandering.
Correction: The 1986 Supreme Court case on partisan gerrymandering was about maps drawn in Illinois, not California.
Amber Phillips writes about politics for The Fix. She was previously the one-woman D.C. bureau for the Las Vegas Sun and has reported from Boston and Taiwan. Follow