POLITICS
02/22/2018 05:19 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2018

GOP Doing All It Can To Keep Pennsylvania's Gerrymandered Congressional Map

Republicans are pursuing every possible legal avenue to try to keep a congressional map that benefits them.

Pennsylvania Republicans took another stab at blocking a court-ordered congressional map on Thursday by filing a new lawsuit that asks a three-judge federal panel to step in.

The suit comes one day after GOP leaders in the state said they had filed an emergency request asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block the new map. In January, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the congressional map that had been in place since 2011, saying it gave Republicans such a considerable advantage over Democrats that it violated the state’s constitution. 

The state Supreme Court gave lawmakers and the governor three weeks to agree on a map, and then stepped in to draw its own when the two parties failed to do so.

In their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and in their Thursday suit, Republicans said the state Supreme Court didn’t give them a meaningful chance to come up with a new map and that its decision to draw its own plan was unlawful. They argued only the U.S. Constitution grants legislatures the ability to draw congressional maps, and said they want the federal court to instruct the state to use the 2011 map for congressional elections this year.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected that argument earlier this month, when it declined to step in and block the state Supreme Court’s order. Republicans are hoping the courts might be willing to take another look now that the map is in place.

Wanda Murren, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, said her agency was already working on implementing the court-ordered map and would continue to do so unless otherwise ordered by the courts.

This 2011 file photo shows the state Capitol in Pennsylvania. 
MLADEN ANTONOV via Getty Images
This 2011 file photo shows the state Capitol in Pennsylvania. 

Lawyers representing the 18 voters who got the 2011 map struck down say the officials have no case in federal court because the state Supreme Court struck down the congressional map based solely on Pennsylvania’s constitution. In a statement Wednesday, lawyers for the plaintiffs accused Republicans of taking frivolous legal action and wasting taxpayer money.

The Republicans are suing Robert Torres, the acting secretary of the commonwealth, and Jonathan Marks, the commissioner for the bureau of commissions, elections and legislation. Lawyers for Torres and Marks have said they can run elections smoothly and on schedule with the new congressional map, but Republicans say it will cause chaos. Nominating petitions for congressional races are set to go out on Feb. 27, so the Republicans are asking the court to step in immediately.

“Our concerns stem from the attack on the constitution initiated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ― not the design of a map,” Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jacob Corman (R), one of the people who filed the suit on Thursday, said in a statement. “What is at stake here is larger than the makeup of the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation.”

“We are unwilling to acquiesce to the court’s attempt to hijack the functions of the legislative and executive branches,” he added. 

President Donald Trump also encouraged Republicans to challenge the new congressional map earlier this week. 

The map the court drew is considerably more competitive than the 2011 plan the GOP is fighting for. Under that map, Republicans consistently won 13 of the state’s 18 congressional seats ― despite winning around 50 percent of the vote. 

Republicans have expressed little interest in getting a new congressional map in place. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Scarnati (R) told the state Supreme Court that he wouldn’t hand over data it had asked for because he believed the court’s decision was unlawful. Republicans also moved to disqualify the vote of a Democratic judge on the court because he expressed opposition to gerrymandering when he was a candidate running for office.

Corman filed the federal suit on Thursday with state Sen. Michael Folmer (R). GOP Reps. Lou Barletta, Ryan Costello, Mike Kelly, Tom Marino, Scott Perry, Keith Rothfus, Lloyd Smucker and Glenn Thompson also joined it.

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