Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Strikes Down Pro-GOP Congressional Gerrymandering

7th Congressional District of Pennsylvania is a pretty egregious example of a partisan gerrymander
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court just dealt a blow to Republicans that the pro-GOP, "conservative justice of SCOTUS will be hard put to undo. Specifically, the Court struck down all of Pennsylvania's horrifically gerrymandered congressional districts as unconstitutional under the Pennsylvania Constitution for a variety of reasons.  For background, Article VII, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provides as follows:
Townships and wards of cities or boroughs shall form or be divided into election districts of compact and contiguous territory and their boundaries fixed and changed in such manner as may be provided by law.

Even a cursory glance at a map of the now invalidated congressional  districts would show that they failed to comply with this principle and also raised serious equal protection and other issues.  Interestingly, Article II, Section 6 of the Virginia Constitution reads in relevant part as follows:  
Every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory and shall be so constituted as to give, as nearly as is practicable, representation in proportion to the population of the district.
As was the case in Pennsylvania, a number of Virginia state election districts fail to meet this requirement (see the map below).  (Virginia's congressional districts were revised three years ago after some very struck down for racial gerrymandering.)  Should a similar challenge be brought in Virginia? In theory yes, but given the Virginia Supreme Courts long history of wrongly decided rulings - think Loving v. Virginia, Massive Resistance cases, etc. -  one cannot be certain that a ruling like that handed down in Pennsylvania.  But I digress.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at the landmark Pennsylvania ruling.  Here are article highlights:

All eyes have been on the U.S. Supreme Court to decide at some point this year whether state redistricting decisions could be so partisan as to violate voters’ constitutional rights, absent some showing of racial discrimination. In the past, purely partisan gerrymandering was considered kosher as a political decision that courts had no basis to challenge. That’s now under question, in part thanks to new methods for measuring the impact of redistricting on voting rights. But now, in a state whose Republican legislators have become legendary gerrymanderers, a state court acting on its state Constitution has suddenly overturned a congressional map and is demanding immediate compliance, upsetting GOP midterm plans:
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the state’s congressional map went so far to benefit Republicans that it violated the state constitution.
The Pennsylvania congressional map has been notorious since its first use, in 2012, when Republicans won (and have subsequently held) 13 of the state’s 18 House seats despite losing a majority of the popular vote. Republican legislative leaders made no bones about their skill in screwing over Democrats. That didn’t much matter until now, when the Pennsylvania Supremes have ruled that extreme partisan gerrymandering violated both equal protection and “free expression” provisions of the state Constitution. Because the decision was made on the basis of the state, not the U.S., Constitution, SCOTUS is very unlikely to intervene to save the bacon of Pennsylvania Republicans. If there is any federal recourse against the decision, it could involve the remedy the Pennsylvania court imposed. The judges gave state lawmakers only until February 9 to draw up a new map, with the governor having only until February 15 to submit it to the court, which will draw its own map if the state fails to make its deadline. The speedy timetable is intended to make it possible for the state to hold congressional primaries in May as is currently scheduled. It also reflects the fact that with today’s redistricting software, it really doesn’t take that long to redraw maps. But that’s still a tight window, and with a Republican legislature and a Democratic governor, an agreement could be difficult to reach.
Any map that complies with the ruling will likely cost the GOP one or more House seats at a time when they are already in danger of losing control of the chamber.
Less partisan lines could give Democrats a chance to win back as many as half a dozen seats that had been lost to them over the past decade. It could also give the party a major boost in its quest to take back the entire House of Representatives in November.

No comments: