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The gerrymandering fight in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, PA — On Feb. 13, Gov. Tom Wolf rejected the new congressional district maps submitted by Republcan leadership. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will now draw up its own verrsion of the maps, if the Wolf and the Republicans don’t agree to a new map plan by Feb. 15.  That’s the latest move in the battle over the gerrymandered maps.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati and Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Mike Turzai delivered the new set of maps to Gov. Tom Wolf on February 9, as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had ordered them to do. However, the two Republicans did not subject the plan to a vote of the entire state legislature as had been ordered.

Several analysts said that the proposed plan would not correct any of the imbalances created in the adoption of the 2011 plan. While there are somewhat fewer divided municipalities than in the 2011 plan, the districts proposed in the new plan would include 13 that would have a majority of Republican voters and five that would have a majority of Democratic voters, despite the state have a voter history of roughly equal numbers of voters from both parties.

In a press release, Barbara Grimaldi, spokeswoman for the plaintiffs in the trial that led to the ruling, wrote, “It is a naked partisan gerrymander just as much as the unconstitutional 2011 map. The proposed map splits Montgomery County four ways and Berks County three ways for no reason other than obvious partisan motivations. Other anomalies abound.”

One of those anomalies, according to Grimaldi, is that the Republicans claim that new districts are more “compact” than the previous ones. She say that’s not true, and instead that Turzai and Scarnati adopted different measures of compactness than the ones used in court proceedings.

Republicans, on the other hand, said the new maps fully addressed the concerns outlined in the court decision.

Meanwhile, the behavior of the Republicans has several observers saying that this bitter feud has led the state to the edge of a constitutional crisis. When Turzai and Scarnati were appealing the state court’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, they informed the high court that they were not going to adhere to the state court’s demand that the two turn over election materials related to county and municipality boundaries.

Further, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to get involved in the matter, essentially because it was a state issue based on the state’s constitution, State Rep. Cris Dush started a campaign to get the five Democratic judges who voted in favor of the ruling to be impeached from office.

Dush wrote, “The five Justices who signed this order that blatantly and clearly contradicts the plain language of the Pennsylvania Constitution, engaged in misbehavior in office.”

That had analysts across the country saying that this case has strayed into dangerous territory. Michael Li, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice, told Newsweek (tinyurl.com/y8rwas59), “It’s not uncommon for [parties] to try everything they can… but to give a middle finger to the court—wow. It’s shocking in some ways. Not at all what you’d expect out of Pennsylvania.”

While the U.S. Supreme Court will not be stepping into the debate in Pennsylvania, the high court will be soon be addressing the issue in three other states. But in those cases, it is not likely to rule on the question in time to have an impact on the 2018 mid-term elections.

 

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