Lawmakers face deadline for producing new Congressional map

Democrats take map battle back to state court in bid to break GOP supermajority

In a full majority opinion released Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the state's congressional district map deprives voters' of their right to "free and equal" elections as protected by the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz said even some dissenting justices acknowledged that Pennsylvania's congressional map, produced by a Republican Legislature in 2011, was unfairly gerrymandered.

The state's highest court gave the Republican-controlled legislature until Friday to submit a proposed replacement to Wolf, who has until February 15 to approve the boundaries and submit the map to the court.

Justice Max Baer filed an opinion concurring with the decision but opposing the court's order for a new map this year. "By focusing on these state and local races, we can ensure Democrats who will fight for fairness have a seat at the table when new maps are drawn in 2021". If they are unable to do that, a four-judge majority on the court has ruled, the court will impose its own corrective plan.

"Given the exigent circumstance of the upcoming elections" the plaintiffs say, they are willing to defer proceedings with respect to other state legislative districts they are challenging on the basis of their violating the so-called "whole county provision" of the constitution that says states should avoid splitting up counties as they draw election district lines. When the new maps were put into place, the state lost one congressional seat because of shifting population, and two districts held by Democrats were essentially combined into one district.

Corman noted that the state Supreme Court has hired an expert from California, Nathaniel Persily, from Stanford Law School, to assist in their efforts to come up with new maps if the Legislature fails to provide them with one to review.

Critics of the map say it has improperly diluted the power of Democratic votes. On Tuesday, the NRDC announced 12 target states-Pennsylvania included.

Partisan gerrymandering has resulted in political gridlock.

"The Supreme Court is setting new ground", he said. And there's some speculation that the state Supreme Court's lack of movement on releasing its detailed opinion may be meant to avoid releasing anything that would provide fodder for a legal challenge, he said.

As it had in its January 22 order, the Court explained the criteria the legislature must use to re-draw the district lines: they must be compact and contiguous, almost equal in population and drawn so as to not unnecessarily divide counties, cities, towns and wards.

"They didn't answer a lot of the questions I thought they would", he said. "This signals there is a second front in the war on partisan gerrymandering through the state courts".

While the ruling does not describe what the court's preferred compact, contiguous and undivided districts should exactly look like, its finding "complies with deeply rooted, traditional methods" long established in the constitution, said Penn Law School professor Seth Kreimer, who called the majority opinion thorough, scholarly and balanced. Republican lawmakers have also in an attempt to get him disqualified; the justice, Wecht, said in court filings that he doesn't feel he needs to recuse himself.

In anticipation of Friday's deadline, lawmakers have begun the preliminary procedures that could pave the way for a new map.

In accordance with the plain and expansive sweep of the words "free and equal", we view them as indicative of the framers' intent that all aspects of the electoral process, to the greatest degree possible, be kept open and unrestricted to the voters of our Commonwealth, and, also, conducted in a manner which guarantees, to the greatest degree possible, a voter's right to equal participation in the electoral process for the selection of his or her representatives in government.

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