Common Cause and NAACP: Pa.'s new congressional district map doesn't violate Voting Rights Act

Supporters of Pennsylvania’s new congressional district map can breathe easier today: Common Cause and the state NAACP have decided not to challenge it.

Common Cause announced Thursday night that it had completed a “further analysis” of the state’s new districts, and that they do not violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act. On Friday, NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference president Joan Evelyn Duvall-Flynn said her group reached the same conclusion. Micah Sims, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, had said earlier this week that his organization and the state NAACP were thinking about filing suit to contest the map on the grounds that it may disenfranchise minority voters.

The state’s former congressional map, which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down last month as unconstitutionally gerrymandered, includes two Philadelphia-based districts in which nonwhites comprise a majority of residents. The new map appears to have only one such district, Sims said previously.

Sims stressed at the time that his group was “not moving hastily” and needed to look at more data to determine the exact demographic makeup of the new congressional districts.

On Thursday, Sims said in a statement that the new map advances “democracy and representation for the 12.8 million residents of our state. No map is ever perfect, but now, Pennsylvania voters finally have fair maps that allow the people to hold our elected officials accountable. These maps should provide an opportunity for education, empowerment, and engagement across Pennsylvania.”

Duvall-Flynn added that the national association’s legal experts, who reviewed the map this week, “found no concerns” in the map.

Common Cause and the NAACP did not immediately release their analyses.

Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, who has called the new map “racist,” lambasted Common Cause’s decision: “Of course Common Cause would reverse course. They’re a Democratic front group pretending to be nonpartisan. Reversing course just proves they had no ethics to begin with.”

Sims said in response that Common Cause is a “fiercely nonpartisan organization” and that it is “wrong and disingenuous” to call it a Democratic front group. “Maybe Congressman Costello doesn’t know, but we are part of the Benisek case before the United States Supreme Court. Yes, the case fighting gerrymandering done by Democrats in Maryland. And it was a Common Cause member who originally stated that case.”

Earlier Thursday, Costello was the target of criticism from state Sen. Vincent Hughes. The Democratic lawmaker, who had urged Gov. Wolf to push to retain two majority-minority districts in the city, said Costello “seems to have a fleeting and convenient interest in African American voters in Philadelphia” and “to my knowledge, he has never been a strong advocate for my community or the citizens of Philadelphia.”

Costello shot back that he respects Hughes and doesn’t question his sincerity, but said that if Republicans had eliminated a minority-majority district, Hughes would have raised serious concerns “unless the issue is creating more Democratic districts.” The state Supreme Court, which imposed the new map, is controlled by Democrats.