February 25, 2018

Pa. Republicans are assaulting the rule of law in gerrymander fight

09 February 2018, 05:40 | Winifred Adams

Cris Dush. Youtube

Cris Dush. Youtube

A Democratic justice's comments critical of gerrymandering should require him to remove himself from a case challenging Pennsylvania's congressional district map, Republican legislative leaders argued in a court filing on February 2.

There are many cases yet to be resolved in the ongoing battle against gerrymandering - including he matter of partisan gerrymandering in both state and congressional districts - and new ones on the horizon.

"It is beyond obvious that his views concerning the drawing of Pennsylvania's congressional districts had been formulated, cemented and expressed publicly long before the filing and adjudication of this case", according to the filing by House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, who had leading roles in developing the 2011 map. And while the Supreme Court did not completely throw out Persily's districts, it stayed a federal court from implementing them in Wake and Mecklenburg County, apparently acceding to the GOP's claim that this is a state issue. "Legislative Respondents failed to identify any legitimate, much less compelling, governmental interest served by drawing the congressional district boundaries to disadvantage Democratic voters", the court found.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule later this year on partisan gerrymandering cases in Wisconsin and Maryland. "I would never have fathomed that the Court would give the General Assembly 18 days to finish its assignment all the while holding its opinion for 16 of them".

That advantage has been despite the fact that Democrats outnumber Republicans in Pennsylvania. The 7th Congressional District, in particular, has been derided as "Goofy Kicking Donald Duck" for its freaky, twisting outline.

"We will do our best to comply with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's January 22 order, but may be compelled to pursue further legal action in federal court", they wrote.

Wolf said his office is ready to work with the General Assembly to get new maps approved. Article I, Section 5 of the state constitution says "elections shall be free and equal; and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage".

The decision could set up a scramble by lawmakers to comply with the order before the deadline, but it wasn't clear Monday that lawmakers intend to even try.

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The House state government committee on Tuesday took the procedural step of moving a shell bill that could be amended with the language to create the new maps. The state court decision was upheld at the federal level.

Lawmakers have also not had any conversation with the governor about what he would consider acceptable in a redrawn map.

The legislature's Republican leaders were scrambling late on Thursday to produce boundaries that could win consensus among members as well as the approval of the state's Democratic governor, Tom Wolf.

"This arbitrary deadline that the Supreme Court has passed is unconstitutional", Dush said during the meeting.

"These liberal dark money groups financed and controlled by allies of the Democratic party are determined to use and abuse the court system to achieve unprecedented chaos", said North Carolina Rep. David Lewis during a news conference on Wednesday. "They've given us a very tight timeline to begin with".

Crompton said factors the Republican leaders are considering as they draw a replacement map include minimizing the number of voters being shifted into new districts, making districts more compact and reducing divisions of municipalities and counties.

The circumstances could have dramatic implications in this year of mid-term Congressional elections. If this hodgepodge of Persily/NCGA districts holds up for November, Republicans would appear to be in a stronger position, which is why they're fighting the federal court so hard. Holder serves as chairman of The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, an Obama-backed organization created past year to focus on races and ballot initiatives in states perceived as victims of Republican gerrymandering.

Five other incumbents have announced they are not seeking re-election - four Republicans and a Democrat.

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