Pennsylvania Republicans again asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block Pennsylvania’s new, court-ordered congressional map on Wednesday, marking the latest in a series of attempts to halt a plan that would make congressional elections more competitive in the state by reducing the impact of gerrymandering.
In an emergency application, Pennsylvania House Speaker Michael Turzai (R) and Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati (R) asked the Supreme Court to prevent the new map from going into effect. They say the state Supreme Court overstepped its authority by drawing a new congressional map.
The GOP challenge comes just two days after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a new congressional map for the state to be used in 2018 and 2020 elections. In January, the court said the congressional map in place since 2011, drawn by Republicans, so severely benefited the GOP that it violated the state’s constitution.
The court gave lawmakers three weeks to reach an agreement on a new map, and when the parties couldn’t do so, the court stepped in to draw its own. Several analyses showed the court’s map will make elections more competitive and give Democrats a better chance of winning seats in districts currently held by the Republicans.
In the emergency application, lawyers for Turzai and Scarnati wrote that the court did not give the lawmakers a “meaningful” chance to draw a new map. The timeline was so compressed, they say, that it “ensured that the
court would get to draw the map it wanted, instead of being crafted through the
“At all stages, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court set this case on a path whereby only it would draw Pennsylvania’s new congressional districts—a task delegated to the “Legislature”—in violation of the Elections Clause,” they wrote.
Republicans signaled last week they would challenge the court’s map and have been dragging their feet over complying with court instructions.
Even though the court struck down the 2011 map based solely on the state constitution, Republicans maintain there are federal issues at stake. They say the U.S. Constitution only grants legislatures the ability to draw congressional districts and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court cannot step in to draw its own map.
Some legal observers are skeptical that argument will go anywhere in federal court. Republicans already used the same reasoning before the U.S. Supreme Court in January when asking the high court to step in and block the state court’s order for a new map.
Conservative Justice Samuel Alito, who oversees applications from Pennsylvania, denied the request without even referring it to the full court. Court watchers say that was a clear signal the high court was likely to agree with the argument that the state court has the authority to draw its own congressional map. But Drew Crompton, a top aide to Scarnati, said Friday he believes the court might be willing to take another look now that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has actually issued a map.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs accused Turzai and Scarnati of wasting taxpayer money.
“At the risk of repeating ourselves, there was no good argument three weeks ago, and there is no good argument now for the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and undo a final judgment and remedy issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court,” R. Stanton Jones, a lawyer with Arnold & Porter, who helped represent the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “Legislative leaders should stop wasting taxpayer funds and accept that Pennsylvania voters will finally get to cast ballots in free and fair congressional elections this year.”
Republicans have tried several maneuvers to try and put off implementing a new map for this year’s midterm elections. They argued that the new plan should be put off until 2020 because implementing a new map would cause confusion this year.
They also unsuccessfully moved to disqualify the vote of a Democratic justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court because, as a candidate for the state’s high court, he said he was opposed to gerrymandering. Some Republicans have also called for the impeachment of the five Democrats on the state Supreme Court over their votes against the old congressional map.
J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf (D), who supported the challenge to the 2011 map, said in a statement Wednesday evening that the governor was complying with the state Supreme Court’s order by making sure preparations for the state’s May 15 primary were running smoothly.