State Supreme Court Decision A Big Win For Democrats, GOP Efforts Ruled Unconstitutional

Published on January 22, 2018 by Athena Pallas

In an unprecedented decision, the way the Republican majority has defined Congressional districts in their favor has just been declared unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The court determined that the 2011 Congressional maps, with boundaries drawn by the Republican majority, “crossed the line from partisan advantage into extreme gerrymandering”, according to U.S. News & World Report. Gerrymandering is the practice of designating voting district boundaries in such a way as to sharply favor one party. Today’s decision is the outcome of a lawsuit, League of Women Voters v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and marks a clear victory for Democrats, who now stand to gain additional seats in the 2018 midterm election as a result. According to U.S. News & World Report:

It’s the first time a Pennsylvania congressional map has been rejected due to claims of gerrymandering, and the second time a state court has made such a ruling in recent months (the first was Florida). (The lawsuit) was the first to challenge Pennsylvania’s congressional map, which some call one of the worst gerrymanders in the country…In its order, the court said it specifically struck down the Keystone State’s congressional maps on the “sole basis” that it “plainly and palpably violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Today’s decision invalidates the current district map and provides a short time frame for the redrawing of more reasonable districts. If the Republican majority fails to create a fairer redistricting, the court indicates that it will impose redistricting definitions itself, which is something Republicans would not want. According to U.S. News & World Report:

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court also gave the GOP-controlled state legislature less than a month to redraw the maps for Gov. Tom Wolfe, a Democrat, to submit to the court…The Republican majority has until Feb. 9 to draw new voting maps, and Wolfe has until Feb. 15 to submit them to the court. If those deadlines aren’t met, the court said it will take matters into its own hands – likely to the GOP’s peril.

Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack tweeted that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling language indicated that if February 15 date was not met, then “this Court shall proceed expeditiously to adopt a plan based on the evidentiary record developed in the Commonwealth Court.”

Since the case was determined by Pennsylvania’s constitution, rather than federal law, the case was heard by Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court rather than the Supreme Court of the United States. Pennsylvania Republicans nonetheless plan to appeal to the United States Supreme Court, but they may be disappointed, as the Supreme Court has refused to hear cases concerning state constitutional law and did not take up a recent similar gerrymandering case in Florida. Lieutenant Governor Stack tweeted about this point, saying “Unlike other gerrymandering cases, this is a state PA Supreme Court interpretation of the PA Constitution. U.S. Supreme Court intervention would be quite a stretch.”

This ruling could spell a huge change in the fortunes of Democratic Congressional candidates in Pennsylvania. Although registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in Pennsylvania, the current Pennsylvania delegation to the House of Representatives has 13 Republicans and only 5 Democrats, likely due to the unfairly drawn 2011 district map that just got overturned. The 2011 map was a radical departure from previous maps – it moved whole cities and counties into different districts and made for some very oddly shaped districts. According to U.S. News & World Report:

If the bombshell ruling stands, it could have an immediate, significant impact on the upcoming 2018 congressional elections. Analysts predict the Democrats immediately gain an advantage over Republicans and could pick up somewhere between four and six House seats.

Robby Mook, who managed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, tweeted that “This is a very big deal. PA is at least a 50-50 swing state, but the congressional map is gerrymandered to 5D /13 R. A ‘fair’ map is 9-9, or at least a fair shot at it. That’s potentially +4 for Dems right off the bat.”

This ruling is great news both for Democrats and for democracy. Gerrymandering in order to to contrive election results is both unethical and, as Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled today, unconstitutional. The plaintiff in the lawsuit was the League of Women Voters, which also shows how much women voters are energized to make a real change in this country, to pull power away from the Republicans who follow President Trump’s agenda, to insist on fairness.

Featured image by Mobilus In Mobili via Wikimedia Commons.