Pennsylvania voters filed a lawsuit against their state challenging the boundaries for the state’s congressional districts Thursday, saying the current ones in place unfairly make it easier for Republicans to get reelected.
The suit mounts a challenge to a map the Brennan Center for Justice has said has one of “the most extreme levels of partisan bias” in the country. The case, filed in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court, alleges state GOP lawmakers deliberately redrew the congressional districts following the 2010 Census to reduce the influence of Democratic voters and make it easier for Republican lawmakers to get reelected. While the lawsuit challenges Republican maps, it notes both Republicans and Democrats have redrawn congressional districts to benefit their party ― a process known as gerrymandering.
The Supreme Court has been critical of partisan gerrymanders in several cases, but has not been able to establish a standard for when they are unacceptable and has never struck one down. Next term, the justices could hear a closely watched case from Wisconsin dealing with a partisan gerrymander that could change that.
The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and nearly 20 Pennsylvania voters filed the lawsuit. All of those voters are registered Democrats, some of whom live in districts where the Democratic Party has gotten over 80 percent of the vote. Others reside in districts that were once competitive but have become safely Republican after the 2010 redistricting.
“This lawsuit is intended to protect the rights of all voters, regardless of party affiliation,” said Susan Carty, president of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, in a statement. “The creation of ‘safe’ seats for either party undermines the ability of all voters to elect representatives of their choosing. We are suing to make sure that elections will be decided by the voters, not by partisan politicians.”
The complaint notes Republicans have been able to overwhelmingly hold on to congressional seats despite not performing well in statewide vote totals. In 2012, the complaint says, Republicans won just 49 percent of the statewide vote, but got 13 of the state’s congressional seats. In 2014 and 2016, they maintained that number, despite earning 55 percent 54 percent of the state vote in those respective years.
There isn’t a universal consensus yet on how much of an impact gerrymandering has on elections. In 2013, a study concluded Republicans would have maintained control of the House of Representatives through a nonpartisan redistricting process. But a report that the Brennan Center released in May argued gerrymandering was responsible for Republican control of 16-17 seats in Congress (Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to gain control of the House).
In addition to the lawsuit, there’s also bipartisan movement in the Pennsylvania legislature to change the redistricting process to require an independent panel to draw the lines. The proposal would need to be approved by the state legislature in 2020.