Top Pa. Republicans ask U.S. Supreme Court to block new map

Republicans have intensified their fight over Pennsylvania’s new congressional map, appealing to the nation’s highest court Wednesday and reviving talk of impeaching the state Democratic Supreme Court justices who threw out the old map.

Top GOP lawmakers submitted an emergency request to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, asking the justices to block implementation of the new district boundaries. Meanwhile, national and state Republicans were preparing a separate federal challenge to the map.

House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) submitted their application for a stay Wednesday evening.

“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court conspicuously seized the redistricting process and prevented any meaningful ability for the legislature to enact a remedial map to ensure a court drawn map,” they wrote. They noted at one point that the court’s majority opinion came out two days before the court-imposed deadline for the legislature to submit a map to the governor.

The pair said in a later statement that they are also arguing that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s actions violated the U.S. Constitution’s elections clause “when it legislated from the bench adding new requirements for drawing congressional districts which do not exist in either the Pennsylvania Constitution or the U.S. Constitution.”

Scarnati and Turzai have fought the Pennsylvania Supreme Court since its ruling last month overturning the previous congressional map as a partisan gerrymander drawn to favor Republicans. The state high court imposed a new, court-drawn map Monday, prompting renewed vows of federal challenges. A previous request that the U.S. Supreme Court intervene was denied by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. without comment.

A second federal challenge is also expected as early as Thursday, led by national Republicans and other state lawmakers.

If either legal challenge is successful, voters and candidates could be left in limbo weeks before the first ballots are to be cast in the primary election in May.

But experts have said Republicans face an uphill battle. Several noted that Scarnati and Turzai had been unsuccessful in a flurry of earlier challenges.

Just days after the state Supreme Court overturned the congressional district map, the top Republican lawmakers unsuccessfully asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and stay the order, arguing that the state court was usurping the legislature’s power.

Justin Levitt, a professor and associate dean at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the appeal filed Wednesday is “a little more refined in the problems that it’s articulating, as I would expect. So before, it was sort of the equivalent of a loud and unarticulated scream into the wind, and this time I can hear words — but it’s still a scream into the wind.”

He added, “I’d be very surprised if the court decided to wade into this.”

Asked Wednesday why he felt a new appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court could be successful, Turzai said: “It’s an issue of ripeness.” He noted that, unlike when they filed their first appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has now imposed a map that he believes is “an exceptionally partisan map.”

Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, said during a rare visit to the state Capitol on Wednesday morning that he too is troubled by the map selected by the state’s highest court, which has a Democratic majority. Toomey accused the state Supreme Court of violating its own criteria when it selected the map and said he will support Republican state leaders in their appeals in any way that is appropriate.

Even before Republicans filed the paperwork for appeals, some across the political aisle were vowing to defend the maps in court.

Attorneys for the Democratic voters who brought the lawsuit that prompted the redrawing of the congressional map said earlier this week that they “have already started preparing for these legal maneuvers” and called on Republicans to stop the legal wrangling.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group led by former Attorney General Eric Holder and backed by former President Barack Obama, also said it was preparing for Republican challenges to the map. The group plans to file a motion to intervene in the federal lawsuit brought by the group of national and state Republicans.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Department of State was updating its systems to help candidates, county election officials, and voters prepare for the May primary under the new maps, according to J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Gov. Wolf.

While Democrats were toiling away on possible legal defenses or on election-related updates, some Republicans were intensifying their rhetoric. More Republicans joined discussions Wednesday about possibly impeaching the Democratic justices on the state Supreme Court.

State Rep. Cris Dush (R., Jefferson) circulated a co-sponsorship memo earlier this month to gauge interest in legislation that would seek to impeach the five Democratic justices who ruled that the map was unconstitutional. He included in that list Justice Max Baer, who said in a dissenting opinion that he agreed the map was unconstitutional but disagreed with efforts to put the new map in place for the primary. As of Wednesday, legislation regarding impeachment had not yet been introduced.

Turzai, the highest-ranking member in the Republican-controlled state House, said that any such legislation would be handled first at the committee level.

Toomey said he believed that discussion about impeaching justices was “inevitable.”

U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, a Chester County Republican, called the maps “racist” on Wednesday, since under the 2011 map people of color made of a majority in two Philadelphia-based districts, and in only one under the new map. He said the justices ignored the Voting Rights Act and therefore disenfranchised black voters.

“It’s just another reason why these Supreme Court justices should be impeached,” said Costello, who under the new map faces an increasingly difficult road to reelection.

Inquirer staff writer Jonathan Tamari contributed to this report.

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