Top stories of 2017: Lawsuits over Pennsylvania's Congressional map

Written by Emily Previti, Keystone Crossroads Reporter | Dec 27, 2017 4:56 AM

Pennsylvania's Congressional voting districts are regarded as the most politically gerrymandered in the nation, by some measures.

But they could be redrawn in time for next year's election, depending on the outcome of state and federal lawsuits targeting the Commonwealth's map. The legal battles are playing out as two similar cases are before the U.S. Supreme Court: one against Wisconsin's map;  the other, Maryland.

Both parties gerrymander, but Republicans controlled all three branches of state government the last two times the map was adjusted to account for new data after each Census.

So the GOP is being sued by 18 Pennsylvanians, one from each Congressional district, in a Commonwealth Court case filed last summer. The federal lawsuit came later, last fall (We delved into the differences between the two on a recent Smart Talk).

They're registered Democrats, claiming discrimination via voting districts engineered to disadvantage their party - although the map passed with support from Democratic state lawmakers  in 2011.

Terry Madonna runs the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster.

"Both parties have, in some respect, been complicit, ... because at the end of redistricting, we don't have partisan lawsuits in Pennsylvania," Madonna says. "Democrats want to hold on to the seats they have. They wanna make sure they're protected. After the 2011 redistricting, the Democrats did not file a lawsuit - despite the fact you could look at [the map] and think their party was disadvantaged."

Republicans have won 13 of 18 seats in Pennsylvania's Congressional delegation since the map took effect, despite getting no more than 55 percent of statewide votes, notes attorney Mimi Mackenzie notes. Mackenzie is legal director of the Public Interest Law Center, which representing the plaintiffs in this case.

The law allows for some political considerations when drawing the map - as long as xx

In court, plaintiffs' experts tried to further quantify the partisan tilt of the map to show it's the most extreme nationally right now and the second-worst ever, and that it ended up that way on purpose.

The defense criticized their methodology, and argued that even if the findings were valid ... they don't prove intent or that voters were shut out of the political process The defense also questioned the Democratic voters to show no one had been shut out of the political process.

Commonwealth Court is slated to issue a non-binding opinion any day now, with an actual ruling expected from the state Supreme Court in January.

The federal ruling is expected before the end of the year.

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