Election Law

Pennsylvania's top court tosses congressional map, finds state constitutional violation

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Monday that a congressional district map benefiting Republicans violates the state constitution, and it ordered state lawmakers to submit a new plan by Feb. 9.

The court said the current map “clearly, plainly and palpably” violates the state constitution, and it may not be used in the May 15 primary. The Washington Post, Pennlive, Reuters, Politico and the Huffington Post have stories.

The 5-2 order is a boon to Democrats, who hold only five out of 18 congressional districts in the swing state. The plaintiffs had claimed the congressional map violated equal protection and free expression protections in the state constitution by favoring Republicans.

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering whether partisan gerrymandering can be unconstitutional in two pending cases. Lawyers for plaintiffs in the Pennsylvania case said today’s decision is insulated from U.S. Supreme Court review because it is based on the state constitution, according to the Huffington Post.

State legislative leaders, however, said they would seek Supreme Court review. The decision “is a partisan action showing a distinct lack of respect for the Constitution and the legislative process,” they said in a statement.

The Pennsylvania order says the state general assembly should submit its new plan to the governor, who has until Feb. 15 to submit the plan to the court if he agrees with it. The redrawn congressional districts should be compact and contiguous, nearly equal in population, and should not divide cities and other jurisdictions unless necessary to ensure equality of population, the court said.

If no plan is submitted the court will adopt a plan.

Justices Thomas Saylor and Sallie Updyke Mundy dissented from the court’s order. Justice Max Baer concurred in the decision on constitutionality but said he feared implementing new maps in the May primary risks “confusion, if not chaos.”

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