POLITICS
03/19/2018 01:27 pm ET Updated Mar 19, 2018

Federal Judges Won't Block Fix To Pennsylvania's Gerrymandered Congressional Map

The decision leaves in place a congressional map issued by the state Supreme Court in February intended to remedy gerrymandering in the commonwealth.

A federal court in Pennsylvania unanimously declined to step in and block the state’s new congressional map on Monday.

The decision by the special three-judge panel leaves in place a congressional map issued by the state Supreme Court in February. In January, the state Supreme Court said the congressional plan Republicans had in place since 2011 so unfairly benefited the GOP that it violated a provision in the state constitution guaranteeing free and equal elections. The suit sought to preserve that map, which gave Republicans a consistent 13-5 advantage in the state, for elections this year.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a separate but similar appeal Monday.

The suit dismissed Monday was filed by Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jacob Corman (R) and state Sen. Michael Folmer (R) as well as eight GOP Pennsylvania members of Congress. They argued that the U.S. Constitution gives the state legislature the authority to draw congressional districts and that the state Supreme Court usurped that power when it imposed its own map.

But the state Supreme Court only imposed its own map after giving lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf (D) three weeks to come up with their own plan. In Monday’s opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Kent Jordan and U.S. District Judges Christopher Conner and Jerome Simandle said frustration with that process was not enough for them to step in. All three judges were appointed to the bench by Republican presidents.

“The Plaintiffs’ frustration with the process by which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court implemented its own redistricting map is plain,” they wrote. “But frustration, even frustration emanating from arduous time constraints placed on the legislative process, does not accord the Plaintiffs a right to relief.”

Because fundamental principles of constitutional standing and judicial restraint prohibit us from exercising jurisdiction, we have no authority to take any action other than to dismiss the Plaintiffs’ verified complaint. From the judges' decision

The judges went on to dismiss the suit because they said the Republicans did not have standing to challenge the state Supreme Court’s decision. Corman and Folmer, the judges wrote, are just two state senators in a 253-member state legislative body and could not have enacted a new congressional map on their own. 

The map put in place makes elections more competitive in Pennsylvania and gives Democrats a better chance of picking up three to four seats. 

The members of Congress claimed they suffered an injury under the state Supreme Court’s map because they had to divert campaign resources after the boundaries of their districts were changed. But the three-judge panel said that specific injury was unrelated to the claim that the state Supreme Court had usurped legislative authority. Precedent also strongly suggests, the judges wrote, that a lawmaker has “no legally cognizable interest in the composition of the district he or she represents.”

“We hold that the federal Elections Clause violations that the Plaintiffs allege are not the Plaintiffs’ to assert,” the judges wrote. “Because fundamental principles of constitutional standing and judicial restraint prohibit us from exercising jurisdiction, we have no authority to take any action other than to dismiss the Plaintiffs’ verified complaint.”

The case rejected Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court is slightly different than the one dismissed by the federal panel. The Supreme Court appeal was brought directly from the state Supreme Court’s decision by House Speaker Michael Turzai (R) and Senate President Pro Tempore Scarnati (R).

U.S. Justice Samuel Alito, who is responsible for overseeing appeals from the region of the country that includes Pennsylvania, rejected a similar previous appeal from Turzai and Scarnati in February.

This story has been updated with more details on the map and Monday’s U.S. Supreme court decision.

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