Oh, the things we learn from Pa.'s gerrymander fight | John Baer

Are these Pa. congressional districts really out for good?

Talk about a teachable moment.

Pennsylvania’s nationally watched gerrymander battle is proving to be a real education.

Not only are citizens, like never before, seeing how raw partisan politics can determine election outcomes. All of us are learning of constitutional issues and separation of powers and when (or not) they matter.

High-stakes stuff. With national implications.

On Monday, ironically a government holiday, our Democratic-controlled Supreme Court completely changed our congressional maps to favor Democrats. This after tossing maps the Republican-controlled legislature drew to favor Republicans.

The swap could give Democrats eight to nine, or more, of the state’s 18 seats in Congress (they now hold five), which would greatly aid in Democratic lust for control of the U.S. House.

Party on, D’s.

Unless, of course, irate R’s can get federal courts to say, “Wait, yinz can’t do that. The U.S. Constitution (Art. 1, Sec. 4) gives map-drawing power to legislatures, not courts.”

(Spoiler alert: Federal courts are usually reluctant to mess with state issues except when the presidency’s at stake – Bush v. Gore, 2000; which, I take it, D’s ain’t over yet.)

And pols’ reaction to Monday’s flip-o’-the-maps?

President Trump tweeted in pushing a GOP challenge: “Don’t let the Dems take elections away from you so they can raise taxes & waste money!”

It wasn’t in all CAPS, though. So.

Gov. Wolf seems to approve the state court action and maps.

Displaying his usual fire in the belly, Tuesday morning he told Pittsburgh’s KDKA Radio: “I think the court is trying to make this as fair as possible.”

Pretty fierce, eh?

Oh, and Lt. Gov. Mike Stack praised the court, especially for using “large parts of my submission,” what he’s called the “Stack map.”

As I’ve noted before, his “submission” was a map neither he nor his staff drew. It was already in case evidence, from a University of Minnesota professor. But then, if a pol says something over and over, somebody will believe it.

Meanwhile, GOP Senate Leader Jake Corman says we’re in a “constitutional crisis,” which, if he’s right, could really muck up this year’s primaries, maybe more: candidate chaos, elections delayed, democracy deferred.

Or, if he’s wrong, he ends up looking like Chicken Little.

Poli-sci teachers across the state are having a field day over all this.

Pitt’s political communications prof Jerry Shuster says, “We’ve been having lengthy discussions,” adding that his students “see some things a little differently” but are “far more cynical about elections and the process. … It’s not unifying.”

And Penn poli-sci assistant prof Marc Meredith says his class on the American political system is getting a full-metal view of an issue touching all three branches of government.

Meanwhile, in the category of there’s-more-than-one-way-to-skin-a-cat, another Pennsylvania lawsuit is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case is Agre v. Wolf. (Louis Agre is Philly’s Democratic 21st Ward leader.)

A panel of federal district judges last month ruled gerrymander relief must come from the political process, not the courts.

But plaintiff lawyer Alice Ballard (great-granddaughter of national law firm Ballard Spahr’s founder) says the suit seeks a different path, one not reliant on maps or on how much gerrymandering is too much gerrymandering.

Courts, she says, should not have to hire experts to study or redraw maps after every census or before every election.

“Forget evaluating maps,” she says. “We’re saying the issue is whether there’s an even-handed process.”

The suit seeks a court order to the executive and legislative branches to come up with a redistricting process less partisan and permanent.

The independent commission, proposed in pending state legislation and pushed by the grassroots group Fair Districts Pa, comes to mind.

Finally, Allentown map maven Amanda Holt finds the new court map lacking the court’s own direction. She says the map has at least 79 “total splits,” and asks, “What happened to the court order to not split counties, municipalities, and wards unless absolutely necessary?”

Good question. One of many. Which is why we live and learn.