Court-Fashioned Pennsylvania Redistricting Divides GOP, Experts

HARRISBURG, Pa. (CN) – Unveiled by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after state lawmakers failed to revise gerrymandered election districts, the new maps sparked applause by nonpartisan experts but GOP outrage Tuesday.

“Your Original was correct,” President Donald Trump tweeted this morning, calling on the Republican-led Pennsylvania Legislature to appeal.

“Don’t let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!”

Trump’s call to arms came on the heels of a new order by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which intervened to replace district maps in time for the state’s primary election on May 15.

Adopted after the 2010 census, the gerrymandered map allowed Republicans to win 13 of 18 seats in a state where they are outnumbered 4:5 by Democrats.

The 2011 maps chopped up large counties like Montgomery across as many as five districts to shore up area Republicans. One district was so misshapen that the winner of a write-in contest organized by the Washington Post christened it as “Goofy kicking Donald Duck.”

After striking down the maps as unconstitutional last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invited lawmakers to submit new maps for approval by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

In its order Monday the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said it had a duty to step into the mapmaking role when the General Assembly shirked such responsibility.

Touting the superiority of the court’s new maps, the unsigned order Tuesday says the remedial plan splits only 13 counties, compared against 28 counties that were split in the 2011 map.

“It is composed of congressional districts which follow the traditional redistricting criteria of compactness, contiguity, equality of population, and respect for the integrity of political subdivisions,” the order states.

The Campaign Legal Center, which filed an amicus brief in support of the redistricting, called out the president Tuesday for defending the old map.

“Trump is out of step with the majority of Americans and there is overwhelming support for the courts to end partisan gerrymandering,” Corey Goldstone, a media strategist for the Campaign Legal Center, said in a phone interview. “The process in PA has allowed for public input and the use of technology to draw fair maps. And the results are good! The new map is better than the old map.”

A nonpartisan website called PlanScore also endorsed the map Tuesday.

Launched just last week by coding and redistricting experts, PlanScore employed a rating system where negative numbers indicate a Republican advantage, while positive numbers reveal a Democratic edge.

It put partisan bias at -4.4 percent in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court-issued plan, compared with -11.6 percent in the unconstitutional map.

PlanScore also compared the efficiency gap of -1.7 percent in the Tuesday map to a -9.7 score for the unconstitutional map.

One member of the PlanScore board is Nick Stephanopoulos, an election law professor at the University of Chicago Law School.

“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court wanted a map that was fair to both political parties,” Stephanopoulos said in a statement. “Using the PlanScore model, we can affirm that the map meets that goal.”

Among those who disagree with the new map are the two Republican members of the seven-justice Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Thomas Saylor argued that “the displacement to the judiciary of the political responsibility for redistricting … appears to me to be unprecedented.”

Justice Sallie Updyke Mundy meanwhile said that the court denied the Legislature “the time necessary to accomplish the immense task of redistricting in accordance with the criteria imposed by this court.”

Justice Max Baer, a Democrat,  as well.

“While I have expressed my misgivings with allowing an election to proceed based upon a constitutionally flawed map, I continue to conclude that the compressed schedule failed to provide a reasonable opportunity for the General Assembly to legislate a new map in compliance with the federal Constitution’s delegation of redistricting authority to state legislatures,” Baer wrote.

Meredith Kelly, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, praised the new maps, saying they “mean fairness for the voters of Pennsylvania, who have long been subject to outsized Republican representation due to gerrymandering.

“More maps should look like Pennsylvania’s, so that there is a level playing field for candidates to compete and earn the trust of voters,” Kelly said in a statement.

Representatives for Pennsylvania Governor Wolf did not return a request for comment.

%d bloggers like this: