No more dawdling, excuses, or tricks. The U.S. Supreme Court says Pennsylvania has to continue on a track to redraw congressional district lines in time for the May 15 primaries. If lawmakers fail, the state Supreme Court says it will draw the maps itself.
On Monday, the highest court in the land upheld a Jan. 22 state Supreme Court ruling ordering the legislature to hand in new maps by Friday to reduce the partisan gerrymandering that’s robbed Democrats, giving them only five of the state’s 18 seats — though voting is split almost evenly between the parties.
Before the Republican-controlled legislature drew maps in 2011, the party held seven seats to the Democrats’ 12. The state lost one seat due to a shrinking population, leaving it with 18. When the GOP was done packing and stacking their voters into districts to ensure wins for their candidates, their seven seats swelled to 13 and the Democrats’ 12 shrunk to five. Among their tricks: Republicans spread Chester County through three House districts; Montgomery County through five and Berks County through four to find their voters and dilute the Democrats’ influence. They even drew a line through the city of Chester in Delaware County just to weaken that struggling community’s clout in Congress.
Although some partisan self-interest is expected in building House districts, it’s excessive in Pennsylvania. The state Supreme Court rightly called that out — saying the map “clearly, plainly and palpably” violated the state Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court, which has been addressing gerrymandering cases in other states, just as rightly let the state ruling stand.
Republicans have cried foul, saying that the state Supreme Court is controlled by Democrats who are setting them up to fail. A trumped-up Rep. Cris Dush (R., Jefferson) is even pushing for the impeachment of the court’s five Democrats. That’s just juvenile.
But Republicans do have a fair point in saying they can’t draw a new map without more detailed direction from the state court. They also deserve clarification of the court’s brief preliminary order. The court asked for voter data from every election district in the state. Republicans say if the court is asking for 2018 data, it doesn’t exist. The 2011 data does exist and is probably the most practical to use, though a lot has changed in seven years.
No one, however, should lose sight of the fact that it is fundamentally outrageous that it takes state and federal court rulings to get Pennsylvania’s legislature to be fair with voters. This is the closest voters have come to hearing anyone in authority saying it is time to draw fair congressional districts.
The only solution that works for voters also is in the legislature’s hands. Regrettably, Republicans are sitting on bills creating an independent commission to draw congressional districts based on principles like keeping communities together so they can choose someone who they believe understands their needs.
Voters should call their legislators and not only tell them they want a fairer way to draw the lines, but remind them that the whole House of Representatives and half the Senate are up for election this year.