Pennsylvanians will vote this spring and in November in congressional districts that have been re-fashioned to wipe out a bias for Republican candidates, the U.S. Supreme Court decided on Monday.
An apparently unanimous court declined to take up a legal challenge to the new districts, which were drawn by an independent consultant supervised by Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court. The state tribunal had ruled that the previous districts, drawn by the Republican-controlled state legislature, discriminated against Democratic voters.
While the Pennsylvania electorate is roughly evenly divided – Democratic and Republican congressional candidates usually get about the same number of votes statewide – the legislature-drawn districts were gerrymandered to produce a 13-5 Republican advantage in the state’s delegation to the House of Representatives.
The state ruling was based on provisions in the Pennsylvania Constitution; the U.S. Supreme Court rarely intervenes in such cases, leaving them to the highest court in the state.
“Today’s Supreme Court ruling was a victory for Pennsylvania voters who will now be able to cast ballots for congressional candidates in districts not unconstitutionally manipulated to make them uncompetitive,” said Micah Sims, Common Cause Pennsylvania’s executive director.
The ruling came just one day before today’s deadline for congressional candidates in all 18 Pennsylvania districts to file for the scheduled May 15 primary elections. Officials indicated that if the court had intervened and forced a delay in the election schedule, the cost to taxpayers would have been about $20 million.
The decision also comes as the Supreme Court considers gerrymandering cases in Wisconsin and Maryland; the Wisconsin case is a challenge to Republican-drawn districts in that state, while the Maryland case involves a Democratic-drawn district that was configured to unseat a Republican representing heavily GOP counties in the western part of the state.
Those cases, and a third gerrymandering challenge, Common Cause v. Rucho, making its way to the high court, invite the justices to put limits on the role of partisan considerations in drawing congressional and legislative districts. More details on the Rucho case and redistricting generally are available here and here.
Issues: Voting and Elections