Pa. congressional map lawsuit updates: Gov. Wolf moves to dismiss suit, adds former U.S. solicitor

Pennsylvania Budget
Gov. Wolf

Gov. Wolf’s administration moved Friday to have dismissed a Republican challenge to the new Pennsylvania congressional map, saying federal courts have no authority over the state Supreme Court on the issue.

“This court should recognize this lawsuit for what it is: a transparent attempt to relitigate a state-law issue that has already been settled,” lawyers for the executive branch wrote in their filing for the federal district court in Harrisburg.

It was an expected move by the Wolf administration, which has sought to protect the new map and keep it in place for the 2018 elections, beginning with the May 15 primaries.

The group of Democratic voters who brought the initial gerrymandering lawsuit that overturned the map also asked the judges Friday to dismiss the case. In their motion, the voters similarly argue that the lawsuit overlaps with other challenges, calling it “antithetical to how the American judicial system is supposed to work” and “merely an attempt to get a fourth bite at the apple.”

The lawsuit was brought by eight of the state’s Republican congressmen and two ranking Republican state senators last week after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court imposed a new congressional district map to replace one it had thrown out as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The Republicans say the state high court, by giving the legislature an abbreviated schedule to draw a new map and then imposing its own lines, took power that the U.S. Constitution gives to state legislatures.

The group of Republican lawmakers are asking the judges to block the Pennsylvania Supreme Court orders. That would stop the new map from use in the 2018 elections, which would revert to the map the state high court threw out as unconstitutionally drawn to benefit the GOP.

A panel of federal judges considering the challenge declined last week to immediately block the map, but scheduled oral arguments for next Friday in Harrisburg, with the judges indicating they would first hear arguments on motions to dismiss.

On Friday, Wolf’s team added Neal Katyal, a former acting U.S. solicitor general who has argued multiple cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Katyal is a partner in Hogan Lovells, which was hired pro bono by Wolf’s outside law firm, Hangley, Aronchick, Segal, Pudlin, & Schiller.

Part of the administration’s argument for dismissing the lawsuit is that it is essentially the same as a separate challenge brought by state Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) and House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny), who are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block the map from implementation. Both challenges use the same legal argument.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. has asked the participants in the case to file their responses to that request by Monday afternoon.