Bethlehem Press

Friday, December 14, 2018

State supremes want new congressional districts now

Tuesday, January 30, 2018 by Bernie O’Hare Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

For years, good government groups like the League of Women Voters have lobbied state legislators to end the gerrymandering that occurs every ten years when state and Congressional districts are redrawn. This has been attacked as a rigged system by which our legislators pick the voters instead of the other way around. It provides incumbent protection, providing job job security for legislators who toe the line with party leaders while punishing any who dare rebel. It is also partisan, slanted in favor of whichever party - Democrat or Republican - is in power. Because state legislators make sure their seats are safe, they could afford to and have ignored those crying out for reform. But they are unable to ignore the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In a three-page order on January 22, the state’s highest judicial tribunal has determined that Congressional redistricting that occurred after the 2010 census is unconstitutional.

It’s a “per curiam” decision, meaning that it reflects the will of a majority of the Court without identifying any single justice. Democrats have a 5-2 majority. The bench’s two Republicans, Chief Justice Thomas Saylor and Justice Sallie Mundy, filed dissenting statements. Saylor writes, “[L]egislators are in a superior position to address their interests.” Mundy complains that the Court never bothered to state which provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution have been violated, and argues that it is “imprudent” to redraw Congressional districts on the eve of a mid-term election.

The ruling makes clear its “sole basis” basis is the state, and not the U.S. Constitution. That makes the ruling safe from the United States Supreme Court, which has no authority to interpret state constitutions. State GOP lawmakers have appealed the ruling anyway.

Currently, there are 18 Pennsylvania Congressional districts. In every election since maps were redrawn in 2011, Republican have prevailed in 13 of these districts. This is despite a Democrat voter registration edge that in 2016 of over one million. From 1992 to 2016, Pennsylvania has voted for the Democrat presidential candidate.In 2016, when the state voted for Donald Trump, it was by less than one per cent.

In addition to tossing the current Congressional maps, the Court has directed the General Assembly to provide a new one to Governor Tom Wolf by February 9. If the Governor refuses to accept the plan, the Court will draw one of ts own, and expects to do so by February 19. The Court has directed that each Congressional district shall be “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.”