Supreme Court blocking congressional map is 'a legal long shot' | Opinion

The new congressional map by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The congressional map approved by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Feb. 19 makes significant strides toward achieving a goal of making elections fair to all who vote in our state.

The new map adheres to the Voting Rights Act and exhibits fairness, equality, and competitiveness. It also embraces neutral criteria that make it harder to manipulate districts for political advantage. These criteria include compactness, contiguity, keeping communities of interest together, and minimal county and municipal splits.

We at Common Cause Pennsylvania, a nonpartisan organization supporting redistricting reform, were pleased to see that the court prioritized the right of the people to fair representation over the partisanship that drove the creation of the previous congressional map.

No map is perfect, but if this stands, Pennsylvanians will finally have districts that allow the people to hold our elected officials accountable. These districts are far more likely to produce a congressional delegation that accurately reflects Pennsylvania’s politics. This map advances democracy and representation for the 12.8 million residents of our state and will finally allow the voters to choose their representatives — and not the other way around.

The state Supreme Court is well within its rights to issue a map after ruling that congressional districts drawn in 2011 were unconstitutionally gerrymandered. Both parties had a chance to work together on a fair and balanced replacement map, but failed to arrive at a consensus. Instead, top Republican leadership submitted a map that generated serious concern from voters because it did nothing to address the unfairness of the previous map.

Republicans leaders announced that they are appealing the map to the U.S. Supreme Court. Their challenge is a legal long shot and a waste of taxpayer dollars designed to reinstate a map that has already been deemed unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

We thank the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for forging an electoral map out of the ashes of the legislature’s failure so the people can once again vote in congressional districts that are fair and responsive.

Rather than filing a lawsuit to revert to maps that failed to reflect our diverse communities, we call on all parties to come to the table in the spirit of transparency and bipartisanship and use the court’s map as a starting point for any further discussions about preserving voter rights and ensuring the accurate representation of the residents of the commonwealth.

Recent developments have shown that Pennsylvania’s method for redistricting is extensively flawed. Under the current system, which will again be in place in 2021 despite this recent court victory, self-interested politicians can draw congressional districts behind closed doors for political advantage without regard to the needs of our communities. This system perpetuates the myth that control of redistricting is a political spoil of war to be weaponized against adversaries instead of an important democratic process that ensures fair and equal representation. We continue to join with our partners across the state in echoing the call to fix this undemocratic process.

For the sake of our commonwealth, this can’t be a partisan issue. Redistricting should not be left to the legislature to carry out behind closed doors. It’s time for Pennsylvania to establish an independent commission of unbiased citizens with no direct personal or political stake in the outcome to direct the redistricting process. Let’s use the bitter process we just witnessed as incentive to chart a better course.

Right now, we have a good map that addresses a lot of the concerns that have plagued our electoral process for more than six years. Fortunately, it arrives in time to bring a renewed sense of fairness to primaries that are quickly approaching in the coming weeks.

Voters should feel excited about this map — empowered with the knowledge that they have a voice that counts when they elect representatives to the United States Congress. We encourage every eligible resident to get ready to vote on May 15.

Micah Sims is executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania.