Pennsylvania's Supreme Court Orders Congressional Districts Redrawn

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the state's congressional map is the result of gerrymandering, to the point that it violates the state constitution.

The state's highest appellate court, in a split decision, ordered the Legislature to submit new maps of the 18 districts by February 9. Otherwise, the justices said they will adopt a plan in an effort to keep the May 15 primary election on track.

A new map could give Democratic candidates a chance to capture as many as half a dozen Republican seats in Pennsylvania alone, with national polls showing voters strongly favoring Democrats in 2018.

That decision, of course, applies only to the state's 18 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and not to state legislative districts.

Guidelines for new map, per the state Supreme Court in gerrymandering decision are that "districts composed of compact and contiguous territory; as almost 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".

"It shows there may be a second front in the war against gerrymandering that does not depend on what the U.S. Supreme Court does or does not do in the Wisconsin and Maryland cases", Li said.

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But the state's Republican-dominated legislature, which approved the current district map in 2011, has already said it would seek to overturn such a decision in federal court.

The case split the Pennsylvania Supreme Court largely along partisan lines. The court ordered the map redrawn, a move that could net Democrats multiple seats and put them a step closer to regaining control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections.

The state Supreme Court has a 5-2 Democratic majority. Both Republican justices dissented.

The suit against the congressional map, which only challenged it under Pennsylvania's state constitution, was one of the most watched voting rights cases in the country.

Unaffected by the order is the March 13th special election in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district between Republican State Sen. If those deadlines are missed, the court said, it will draft a new map itself, with input from the parties.

The ruling could encourage groups to bring similar challenges against congressional gerrymandering cases in other states and bypass a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, which is now considering two cases dealing with partisan gerrymandering.

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