If you have found it difficult to keep up with the gerrymandering drama in Pennsylvania, here is an update. Since the PA Supreme Court ruled on January 22nd (after lobbying efforts by the League of Women Voters) that the district map drawn by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in 2011 was unconstitutional, Republicans have been attempting to take legal action, while threatening impeachment of the PA Supreme Court Justices.
The events leading up to present Republican efforts at the federal level are as follows:
- The PA Supreme Court had given the state legislature until February 9th to submit a new map to Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, who then had until February 15th to approve it.
- US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito rejected the Republicans’ request for a stay without comment on February 5th.
- Predictably, Governor Wolf rejected the new Republican map and the court redrew the map on its own with the help of Stanford University law professor Nathaniel Persily (whose services cost PA taxpayers $124,000). Persily’s past writings include comments on gerrymandering, calling the practice “partisan greed,” and comments disagreeing with the Citizens United decision. Persily had also argued against efforts by Texas to draw districts based on “eligible voters instead of total population, because it would dilute the voting power of a growing Latino population,” according to the Charlotte Observer. The court’s map was released on February 19th.
- Top Republican state lawmakers then filed an emergency request with the US Supreme Court, pleading with the high court to block the state court’s map in the run up to mid-term elections on February 21st. They also made the same request in Harrisburg, filing a lawsuit in US District Court the next day. These judges also declined to block the map but fast-tracked it on their schedule.
- Most recently, on March 19th, the federal judges rejected the Republicans’ challenge and dismissed the lawsuit, claiming they do not have the proper standing.
Now, PA Republicans’ last chance lies with the US Supreme Court. The Supreme Court currently is in the midst of hearing two other gerrymandering cases, so even if it rejects the PA Republicans’ case, the other two cases could add fuel to their fire for future legal battles if the court reinforces state legislatures’ power to draw district maps. Top PA Republican lawmakers also have not ruled out an impeachment battle against the state Justices. Sen. Pat Toomey recently made comments encouraging these efforts by Congressman Ryan Costello, and PA House Speaker Mike Turzai told The Philly Inquirer that the option will remain as the PA House “will review appropriate remedies as we move forward.”
Meanwhile, Democrats won a (possibly temporary) seat in the 18th Congressional District when their special election candidate Conor Lamb ran as a moderate in a district President Trump won by 20 points in 2016 and which was formerly held by disgraced Republican Tim Murphy. This race not only reminded politicos that all politics is local, but should also prove advantageous to any Republican case made that the 2011 map is indeed fair.