Late afternoon on Monday, January 22nd, The Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a ruling on a lawsuit regarding partisan gerrymandering in the State’s congressional map during redistricting in 2011. The court ruled that the redistricting “clearly, plainly, and palpably violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and, on that sole basis, hereby strike it as unconstitutional.”
The full order from the court can be accessed here.
The court order follows, “Accordingly, its further use in elections for Pennsylvania seats in the United States House of Representatives, commencing with the upcoming May 2018 primary, is hereby enjoined.” The order requires that the Pennsylvania General Assembly must submit a satisfactory redistricting plan to the Governor by February 9th, and submit the same plan to the Supreme Court for review by February 15th. If these deadlines are not met, the Supreme Court “shall proceed expeditiously to adopt a plan based on the evidentiary record developed in the Commonwealth Court.”
Requirements are detailed for any submitted plan: “to comply with this Order, any congressional districting plan shall consist of: congressional districts composed of compact and contiguous territory; as nearly equal in population as practicable; and which do not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary to ensure equality of population.”
This is a major victory for the democracy in the state of Pennsylvania, which has dealt with a growing disparity in representation on a federal level. The most heinous example, Pennsylvania’s 7th district, was widely mocked for its absurd shape, and became known as “Goofy kicking Donald Duck.” Its Representative, Republican Patrick Meehan,
is also in the news for revelations he used thousands of taxpayer dollars to settle a sexual harassment case against himself.
While the Pennsylvania state legislature, known as the General Assembly, is a majority Republican body, the mandate that any plan must be approved by the state’s Democrat Governor and majority-democrat Supreme Court means that there is little room for resistance from the Assembly. This, coupled with the demand the maps be finalized before 2018’s primary, could mean a massive shakeup in Pennsylvania’s House Representatives. There are currently three Pennsylvanian seats in the House whose incumbents will not seek re-election this year. This order specifies it will not affect special elections however, such as the race for PA District 18, which was opened up later last year after Representative Tim Murphy resigned in disgrace.
Opponents of the decision will likely decry this as a partisan act by a judicial apparatus of the democratic party, but such arguments are overshadowed by the Republican party’s clear attempts to obstruct the fair and equal representation required in democracy today. The decision, of course, is not perfect: a better solution would be one similar to California, which utilizes a non-partisan citizen’s panel while drawing congressional districts. A solution like that would require legislation that is not viable at this time. But this ruling shows utter importance of the judiciary’s role in government: Judges have, and always will, matter.