Federal judges leave new Pa. congressional map in place for now - but fast-track hearings on it

The new congressional districts in southeastern Pennsylvania under the map imposed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

HARRISBURG — Republican efforts to block Pennsylvania’s new map of congressional districts suffered a setback Friday, as a federal three-judge panel declined to issue an emergency order to prevent it from taking effect.

Instead, they scheduled a hearing for March 9 here to consider arguments on whether they should block the maps from being used in the looming primary and general elections.

The judges, in a three-page filing issued late Friday, said they favored “an opportunity for all parties to be heard” and intend to “proceed on an expedited basis.”

The case was filed Thursday by two state senators and eight congressmen from Pennsylvania, all of whom are Republicans. Together, they argued that the Democrat-controlled state Supreme Court, when it ruled the prior map unconstitutional and imposed a new one, violated the elections clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives power to state legislatures to run elections for U.S. House.

On the panel are Kent Jordan, who serves on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals; Christopher Conner, chief judge in the U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania; and Jerome Simandle, a semi-retired federal judge based in New Jersey. All three were appointed by Republican presidents.

The claims by the GOP plaintiffs were “not so exigent as to justify” immediately blocking the maps, the judges wrote.

A similar legal challenge, filed by two other prominent Republicans in the state legislature, is pending in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, state officials are continuing to plan for the May 15 congressional primary using the new map imposed Monday by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Candidates for U.S. House can begin circulating nominating petitions next week, and they are due March 20 — unless a court orders otherwise.