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Urged on by Trump, GOP to fight Pennsylvania's district map

Written by Marc Levy/Associated Press | Feb 20, 2018 3:04 PM
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(Harrisburg) -- Urged on by President Donald Trump, Republicans vowed Tuesday to fight Pennsylvania's new court-imposed map of congressional districts, as dozens of candidates assessed their chances under newly formed districts and the odds that a federal court could block them.

Republican members of Congress and Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers planned to sue in federal court as early as Wednesday in a bid to block a map expected to improve Democrats' chances at erasing the GOP's U.S. House majority.

The new map substantially overhauls a GOP-drawn congressional map that has helped produce a predominantly Republican delegation and was widely viewed as among the nation's most gerrymandered.

With control of the U.S. House on the line in November, Trump urged Republicans to challenge the new map of Pennsylvania's 18 congressional districts all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

"Your Original was correct! Don't let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!" Trump tweeted.

The Democratic-majority state Supreme Court met its deadline Monday to issue the new boundaries after it threw out a 6-year-old GOP-drawn map as unconstitutionally gerrymandered. The Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf did not produce a consensus replacement map in the three weeks allotted by the court.

Democrats cheered the new map, while Republicans blasted it and it left dozens of candidates reconsidering their future.

Chief among them is Republican Rep. Ryan Costello, whose suburban Philadelphia district was narrowly won by Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Costello is in more dire straits now that the court added the heavily Democratic city of Reading to his district and ironed out geographic contortions that were designed to capture more Republican voters.

On Tuesday, Costello could not yet say if he will run in his district if the court-ordered congressional map survives a federal court challenge.

But Costello lashed out at the state Supreme Court, saying the justices' map was politically motivated, their map-making process was politically corrupt and that state lawmakers should consider impeaching them.

"I'm all riled up," Costello said.

Pennsylvania's state House Republican majority leader, Dave Reed, now lives in the same district as U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, a fellow Republican, rather than the district of the man he had hoped to succeed, retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster. Reed said he did not know what he would do.

Joe Peters, a former top state drug prosecutor and Scranton police officer, had been running to succeed a fellow Republican, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, who is campaigning for U.S. Senate.

Peters now finds his rural northeastern Pennsylvania home in the same district as Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Marino. That prompted Peters to start thinking about moving into one of two nearby districts without a Republican incumbent while trying to gauge whether a federal lawsuit could undo the new districts.

"It's a combination of a game of chicken and a game of chess," Peters said.

The map removes the heart of one district from Philadelphia, where a crowd of candidates had assembled to replace the retiring Democratic Rep. Bob Brady, and moves it to suburban Montgomery County. That leaves many of those candidates in the same districts as Democratic Reps. Dwight Evans and Brendan Boyle.

The new map also renders the March 13 special election in southwestern Pennsylvania virtually meaningless: the court's map puts each candidate's home in a district with a Pittsburgh-area incumbent. Neither candidate -- Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone -- responded to messages about their plans beyond the special election.

The state court ruled last month that Republicans who redrew district boundaries in 2011 unconstitutionally put partisan interests above neutral line-drawing criteria.

Independent analysts said the court-ordered map should improve Democratic prospects while still favoring Republicans as a whole. An analysis conducted through PlanScore.org concluded the court's redrawn map eliminates "much of the partisan skew" favoring Republicans on the old Republican-drawn map, although not all of it.

The new map is to be in effect for the May 15 primary. The first day for candidates to start circulating petitions is next Tuesday, but petitions weren't available yet and neither was complete information about which municipalities and precincts were in each new district.

Republicans will argue in federal court that legislatures and governors, not courts, have the constitutional responsibility to draw congressional maps. But constitutional law professors say they appear to face an uphill battle since federal courts are normally reluctant to undo a state court decision.

An earlier story appears below. 

(Harrisburg) -- Federal and state Republican Party officials are expected to sue to contest a Pennsylvania court's redrawing of the state's 18 congressional districts.

The National Republican Congressional Committee said the lawsuit could be filed as early as Wednesday. Tuesday's statement says the lawsuit "will highlight the state supreme court's rushed decision that created chaos, confusion and unnecessary expense."

Republicans in Pennsylvania previously said they'd sue to block the court's map and argue that legislatures and governors, not courts, have the constitutional responsibility to draw congressional maps.

The court-imposed congressional map overhauls a Republican-drawn map widely viewed as among the nation's most gerrymandered.

It also gives Democrats a better shot at winning a couple more seats as the party tries to wrest control of the U.S. House.

An earlier story appears below.

(Harrisburg) -- President Donald Trump has encouraged Republicans to fight Pennsylvania's new court-imposed map of congressional districts, issued a day earlier in a move expected to improve Democrats' chances at chipping away at the GOP's U.S. House majority.

Trump tweeted that Republicans should challenge the new map of Pennsylvania's 18 congressional districts all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

"Your Original was correct! Don't let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!" Trump tweeted.

Republicans have already vowed to challenge it in federal court, as early as Tuesday.

The Democratic-majority state Supreme Court met its own deadline Monday to issue the new boundaries after it threw out a 6-year-old GOP-drawn map as unconstitutionally gerrymandered. The Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf did not produce a consensus replacement map in the three weeks allotted by the court.

The new map is to be in effect for the May 15 primary and substantially overhauls a Republican-drawn congressional map widely viewed as among the nation's most gerrymandered.

New boundaries will likely usher in changes to Pennsylvania's predominantly Republican delegation, which has provided a crucial pillar of support for GOP control of the U.S. House.

Most significantly, the new map gives Democrats a better shot at winning a couple more seats, particularly in Philadelphia's heavily populated and moderate suburbs. There, Republicans have held seats in bizarrely contorted districts, including one described as "Goofy Kicking Donald Duck."

Republican Rep. Ryan Costello, whose suburban Philadelphia district was narrowly won by Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, is in even more dire straits now that his district adds the heavily Democratic city of Reading.

The state's delegation is already facing big changes in a year with six open seats, the most in decades. Meanwhile, candidates finding themselves in a new political landscape are rethinking campaigns a week before they can start circulating petitions to run.

The map removes the heart of one district from Philadelphia, where a crowd of candidates had assembled to replace the retiring Democratic Rep. Bob Brady, and moves it to suburban Montgomery County.

The new map does not apply to the March 13 special congressional election in southwestern Pennsylvania's 18th District to fill the remaining 10 months in the term of former Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, who resigned amid a scandal. But it renders the special election virtually meaningless: the court's map puts each candidate's homes in a district with a Pittsburgh-area incumbent.

The court ruled last month that Republicans who redrew district boundaries in 2011 unconstitutionally put partisan interests above neutral line-drawing criteria. It was the first time any state court threw out congressional boundaries in a partisan gerrymandering case, this one brought by registered Democratic voters and the League of Women Voters last June.

The new map repackages districts that had been stretched nearly halfway across Pennsylvania and reunifies Democratic-heavy cities that had been split by Republican map drawers six years ago.

Democrats cheered the new map, while Republicans blasted it.

Independent analysts said the map should improve Democratic prospects while still favoring Republicans as a whole. An analysis conducted through PlanScore.org concluded the court's redrawn map eliminates "much of the partisan skew" favoring Republicans on the old Republican-drawn map, although not all of it.

University of Florida political science doctoral student Brian Amos said Clinton beat Republican Donald Trump in eight of 18 districts in the 2016 presidential election on the court's map. That compared with six of 18 districts Clinton won in 2016 under the invalidated map.

Republicans who controlled the Legislature and the governor's office after the 2010 census crafted the now-invalidated map to elect Republicans and succeeded in that aim: Republicans won 13 of 18 seats in three straight elections even though Pennsylvania's registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans.

Republicans will argue in federal court that legislatures and governors, not courts, have the constitutional responsibility to draw congressional maps. But they appear to face an uphill battle since federal courts are normally reluctant to undo a state court decision, said Michael Morley, a constitutional law professor at Barry University in Florida.

"I think it will be a major obstacle and a major challenge to get around it," Morley said.

*An earlier version of this story is below*

(Washington) -- President Donald Trump is encouraging Pennsylvania Republicans to challenge a new court-imposed congressional map all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

Trump tweeted earlier today that Republicans' map "was correct! Don't let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!"

The Democratic-majority Pennsylvania Supreme Court voted 4-3 on Monday to impose a new map for the state's 18 congressional districts, effective for the May 15 primary.

The new map substantially overhauls a Republican-drawn congressional map widely viewed as among the most gerrymandered in the nation, and boosts Democrats heading into November's election.

The new boundaries will usher in changes to Pennsylvania's predominantly Republican congressional delegation, which is already facing big changes with six open seats.

Legal challenges are expected.

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