Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

GOP Loses Last-Ditch Bids to Block Pennsylvania Voting Map

Updated on
  • Two courts leave Democratic-friendly congressional map intact
  • U.S. Supreme Court rejects Republicans, with no public dissent

Republicans lost two last-ditch court challenges to a new Pennsylvania congressional voting map, ensuring that Democrats will get to run in more favorable districts in the state as they try to take the U.S. House in November.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Pennsylvania Republicans on Monday, refusing to reinstate a GOP-drawn map that gave the party 13 of the state’s 18 congressional seats in the last three general elections. A three-judge federal court threw out a separate Republican lawsuit earlier in the day.

The rebuffs give Democrats a chance to build on their apparent victory in a special election March 13 for a Republican-held seat under the old map. Democrat Conor Lamb has a slim lead and has claimed victory, but Republicans say they are considering seeking a recount.

If Lamb prevails, Democrats would need to gain 23 more seats in November to win the House majority, which would allow them to block President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the Republican-drawn map in January, saying it was a partisan gerrymander that violated the state Constitution. The state court then imposed the new map, drawn with the help of an outside expert, after the Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic governor couldn’t agree on a new set of districts by a Feb. 9 deadline.

Pennsylvania Republicans argued that the state court ruling violated the U.S. Constitution by stripping the legislature of its power to draw voting maps.

‘Victory’ for Voters

The U.S. Supreme Court order came without comment or published dissent. Justice Samuel Alito had rejected an earlier Republican request in the case on Feb. 5 without comment.

Micah Sims, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, called the Supreme Court action "a victory for Pennsylvania voters who will now be able to cast ballots for congressional candidates in districts not unconstitutionally manipulated to make them uncompetitive,"

The Supreme Court order came about two hours after the three-judge federal panel said Pennsylvania Republicans in Congress and state lawmakers lacked the legal right to try to stop the revised map. The panel unanimously said it couldn’t grant the "extraordinary remedy" the group was seeking.

"The plaintiffs invite us to opine on the appropriate balance of power between the Commonwealth’s legislature and judiciary in redistricting matters, and then to pass judgment on the propriety of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s actions under the United States Constitution," the panel said. "These are things that, on the present record, we cannot do."

Undoing Confusion

Matthew Haverstick, a lawyer for eight Republican congressional representatives who sued over the map, said his side was reviewing the panel decision and considering the next steps.

"We’re disappointed, especially in light of the confusion last week in PA 18," Haverstick said, referring to the special election. "I don’t think this result is going to help in undoing any of this confusion."

Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Wolf said in court papers that 150 candidates are relying on the new map as they collect signatures to appear on the ballot. The filing period opened March 7.

This could be a watershed year for the rules governing partisan gerrymandering. The Supreme Court is considering cases from Wisconsin and Maryland that could put nationwide limits on lawmakers’ ability to draw maps for partisan advantage. The justices will hear arguments next week in the Maryland case.

The Supreme Court case is Turzai v. League of Women Voters, 17A909. The district court case is Corman v Torres, 18-cv-443, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg).

— With assistance by Erik Larson, and Bob Van Voris

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