Opponents of legislative maps imposed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court were dealt dual defeats Monday as the U.S. Supreme Court and a panel of federal judges each declined to intervene to block their implementation.
The decisions likely clear the way for the maps to be used for congressional races in the May 15 primary election, with new district lines largely seen as much more favorable to Democratic candidates than the old map.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who also declined to take up a similar request in February, issued the rejection of a plea to intervene by Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, both Republicans.
Alito’s decision was not accompanied by any explanation, saying simply, “The application for stay presented to Justice Alito and by him referred to the Court is denied.”
The three federal judges who likewise declined to intervene were much more verbose in a 24-page decision that laid out why they came to their conclusion. They wrote that the map imposed by the state Supreme Court wasn’t itself at issue.
“At bottom, the Federal Congressional Plaintiffs’ injuries are traceable only to the court’s decision to invalidate the 2011 Map and its mandate that a new map be adopted – acts that the Plaintiffs concede are ‘undoubtedly’ within the state court’s authority,” the judges wrote.
The legal dispute stems from a ruling by Pennsylvania’s high court that the state’s legislative map, drawn in 2011 by a bipartisan commission in the aftermath of the 2010 U.S. Census, was unconstitutional. In a 4-3 ruling, justices said that the map was an example of gerrymandering, a practice designed to create “safe districts” that keep one party in power regardless of the will of the voters. Both Democratic and Republican legislatures across the country have been accused of engaging in gerrymandering, and a number of legal cases have arisen as a result.
Turzai, Scarnati and a variety of other Pennsylvania officials – including the state’s Republican U.S. representatives – have argued repeatedly that the map imposed by the state Supreme Court is itself guilty of gerrymandering, this time in favor of Democrats. A statement Monday by Scarnati, along with Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and Sen. Mike Folmer, insisted that the facts were still on their side.
“We are upset by the decisions today of the three judge panel in Middle District Court and the U.S. Supreme Court regarding redistricting,” they wrote. “It is disappointing that the U.S. Supreme Court did not intervene. This Middle District Court case was dismissed on the legal issue of standing, not on the facts of the case.”
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf celebrated the fact that the new map will remain in place for the May election.
“I applaud these decisions that will allow the upcoming election to move forward with the new and fair congressional maps,” he said in a statement. “The people of Pennsylvania are tired of gerrymandering and the new map corrects past mistakes that created unfair Congressional Districts and attempted to diminish the impact of citizens’ votes.”
Matt Brouillette, president of Commonwealth Partners, a Pennsylvania-based organization devoted to business and economic issues in the state, lamented the decisions Monday.
"The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, as well as the decision by a panel of federal judges, not to step in and halt this chaos is disappointing, as it may lead our state supreme court justices to believe they can deem themselves legislators with impunity,” Brouillette said in a statement. “The state court was within its power to order the legislature to redraw the map – but far exceeded its authority in assuming the legislature's role from the bench.”