Gerrymandering in Pennsylvania

By Jacob Oldaker

In February of 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a decision in League of Women Voters v. Commonwealth that bound Pennsylvania to a new congressional district map. League of Women Voters v. Commonwealth, No. 159 MM 2017, 2018 Pa. LEXIS 927 (Feb. 19, 2018).  This decision will upend familiar bounders and the renumbering of districts across the state may give the Democratic party a boost in the 2018 House elections.  Jonathan Lai, In Gerrymandering Case, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Releases New Map for 2018 Elections, http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/tns-pennsylvania-gerrymandering-supreme-court-map.html, (last visited Apr. 12, 2018).  The new plan splits only 13 counties which is vastly reduced to when contrasted with the most recent map in 2011 that split 28 counties. Id.

“The Remedial Plan is superior or comparable to all plans submitted by the parties, the intervenors, and amici, by whichever Census-provided definition one employs,” the court wrote in its order. It also wrote that the plan is “superior or comparable” to the various map proposals on the average compactness of districts and that each district in the map has an equal population, plus or minus one person.

Id.

Much concern is brought from these changes because they appear to be favorable to the Democrats. Id.  Under the new plan, President Donald Trump would have won 10 congressional districts which is two fewer than he won in 2016 under the current map. Id.  These changes are not going unnoticed within the Republican party and they are pushing back, and have further pushed towards the Supreme Court of the United states.  Id.  The Republicans believe this has become a Constitutional issue because by taking mapmaking into the court’s own hands, they are overstepping the line drawing power that the U.S. Constitution gives to state legislature. Id.  In the mindset of the Republican party

“This Court recognized that the primary responsibility for drawing congressional districts rested squarely with the legislature, but we also acknowledged that, in the eventuality of the General Assembly not submitting a plan to the Governor, or the Governor not approving the General Assembly’s plan within the time specified, it would fall to this Court expeditiously to adopt a plan based upon the evidentiary record developed in the Commonwealth Court,” the per curiam order reads, adding that drawing a map is “a role which our Court has full constitutional authority and responsibility to assume.”  

Id.  This belief is not entirely true because the court notes that all participants in the case had opportunity to submit proposals and feedback, and those submissions guided the redrawing. Id.

This decision could have a significant impact going forward in not only local elections but in presidential elections in the future.  Pennsylvania is a key battleground state for major elections because the number of voters per political party is close to an even split. Id.  These new district lines may not only affect presidential elections but can impact politics at the state and national level as the Democratic party attempts to capitalize on favorable political trends to regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Personally, I believe these new lines could add a level of competition to the districts.  New, completive districts, in the eyes of the Democrats allows the lines to be fairly drawn based on population to create an equal opportunity in each election period.  The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania needs to be conscientious in their decisions around redrawing district lines to avoid accounts of gerrymandering from either party.  There is a fine line when it comes to matters that involve elections, and the courts and political parties need to work together to avoid gerrymandering claims in the future.