KEYSTONE CROSSROADS – Republican state lawmakers are asking the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay on the state court decision earlier this week that declared Pennsylvania’s congressional district map unconstitutional.
In a filing Thursday, lawyers for Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) and Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) argued that the Pa. Supreme Court violated the federal Elections Clause, which empowers state legislatures to handle congressional redistricting.
Plaintiffs — 18 Democrats represented by a legal team comprised mainly of attorneys from the Public Interest Law Center — had argued that the map was a political gerrymander designed to favor Republicans. They don’t think the nation’s top court will intervene because their case was based solely on the Pennsylvania constitution.
The majority Democratic Pa. Supreme Court ruled 5-2 along party lines that the state’s map “clearly, plainly and palpably” violates the state constitution, and 4-3 that a new map should be finalized by mid-February and effective for the primary election May 18.
The court’s full opinion hasn’t been released and justices didn’t define a standard to gauge when partisan gerrymandering becomes unconstitutional. Monday’s ruling is a three-page outline of the court’s position.
It also tasked state legislators with redrawing the map, subject to the governor’s approval, asking for it to be filed with the court by Feb. 15.
If the court’s timeline isn’t met, the justices will choose a new map. Many possible alternatives were introduced into the court record during the trial. The decision also made it clear that parties to the case could file other proposed maps before Feb. 15.
A bill that would start the map-making process in the General Assembly has not been introduced.
Congressional campaigns, meanwhile, are grappling with how to deal with the uncertainty created by the ruling.
And state legislators who’ve declared their candidacy for congress are facing questions about whether they’ll stay out of creating the map.
A federal court recently upheld Pennsylvania’s map in a separate gerrymandering lawsuit. The case is now one in a group from multiple states filed for consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court.