PA Supreme Court Orders New Congressional Maps before Primaries

Katie Phillips Active + Engaged Residents, Advocacy

UPDATE 6/15/18: Please see our latest statement on redistricting reform efforts in Pennsylvania for the most recent information and our current position on redistricting legislation.

On January 22, the PA Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 decision that the Pennsylvania Congressional Districts are currently unconstitutional and do not fairly represent the people. Their order requires that a new map be put in place before the 2018 primary elections on May 15. State legislators, along with “all parties and interveners,” can propose replacement maps by February 15. WHYY reported that the new map must “divide the state’s voters into districts that are contiguous and have equal populations, which federal law already required.” Furthermore, however, the districts must “avoid dividing political jurisdictions,” which is not a law “but recognized as ‘best practice’ in redistricting.”

The case was originally filed in June 2017 by the League of Women Voters, on behalf of a group of 18 Democratic voters, against Pennsylvania state officials, alleging that the state’s maps are illegally gerrymandered.

Earlier this month, on January 10, a panel of federal judges rejected a challenge to PA’s congressional district map in Agre v. Wolf, from the plaintiffs who argued that the map is unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit the majority party. The panel of judges argued “that specific challenge was not for them to decide” in a 2-1 decision. The plaintiffs referenced the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution in their claim, arguing that partisan drawing of congressional maps is illegal.

In the more recent ruling on January 22, the PA Supreme Court made their decision based upon the argument that Gerrymandering violates the PA state constitution. Although the Republican-controlled legislature intends to appeal this ruling in federal court, the New York Times reports that it is unclear whether an appeal would succeed because the decision was based in the PA state constitution.

Other states, including North Carolina and Maryland, have heard challenges to district maps as well.

On January 9, 2018, a panel of federal judges ordered North Carolina to redraw its congressional map. The ruling was given after the judges determined that North Carolina’s congressional map was “unconstitutional because Republicans had drawn the map seeking a political advantage.” This ruling was the first time federal judges deemed a gerrymandered congressional map unconstitutional. The ruling in North Carolina was a significant win for advocates of fair legislative districts.

North Carolina’s latest ruling on the issue of gerrymandering in the U.S. could have implications for how the Supreme Court of the United States rules on the gerrymandering cases that have been brought to them.

In October 2017, the Supreme Court heard a case on whether Republicans unconstitutionally gerrymandered Wisconsin’s State Assembly. In Spring 2018, the Supreme Court will hear a case from Maryland, brought by Republicans arguing that Democrats unconstitutionally redrew Maryland House districts. The Supreme Court will give their decisions on the Wisconsin and Maryland cases in the next few months.

PUMP is a strong advocate for fair and equitable legislative districts. PUMP is an endorsing member of Fair Districts PA, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to establishing an independent, nonpartisan redistricting committee to redraw Pennsylvania’s district lines. We will be sharing opportunities to help redraw the maps throughout 2018 and beyond through Committee of Seventy’s Draw the Lines project. See Fair Districts PA’s statement on the PA Supreme Court ruling. To learn more about gerrymandering in Pennsylvania and for opportunities to get involved with developing long term solutions, check out Fair Districts PA and their Take Action page.