In light of Commonwealth Court recommendations and mounting costs, Senate Republican leaders urge League of Women Voters to drop redistricting lawsuit

In light of Commonwealth Court recommendations and mounting costs, Senate Republican leaders urge League of Women Voters to drop redistricting lawsuit

Author: Jason Gottesman/Tuesday, January 9, 2018/Categories: News and Views

With Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson recommending to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that the state’s congressional districts are constitutional and legal costs in the ongoing redistricting lawsuit now reaching over $1 million, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) issued a statement Tuesday urging the lead plaintiff’s in the case, the League of Women Voters, to drop the lawsuit to allow for real reform to take place.


“Taxpayers are paying a hefty price for the League of Women Voters’ Washington, D.C., attorneys to argue gerrymandering, when courts have ruled that a partisan advantage is not against well-established federal and state law,” Sen Scarnati said.


“With a Commonwealth Court Judge decision saying that the state’s Congressional districts are Constitutional, we hope the League and 18 petitioners would spare taxpayers further costs by dropping the case.”


Just prior to the new year, Judge Brobson met a supreme court-mandated deadline to issue his recommendations in the case, most notably hitting on the fact that, while partisan considerations were undoubtedly used in the development of the 2011 congressional map—the one currently subject of litigation—the plaintiffs in the case did not develop or show a judicially manageable standard exists to determine whether those political considerations crossed a line into unconstitutional territory.


“Congressional reapportionment is ‘the most political of legislative functions,’ and judicial intervention should be reserved only for the most egregious abuses of power conferred to the General Assembly,” he wrote quoting a US Supreme Court decision.


“The question presented in political gerrymandering cases is not whether the General Assembly, in drawing congressional districts, may make decisions that favor one political party or even a particular incumbent; rather, the question is how much partisan bias is too much.”


While the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has scheduled a January 17, 2018, hearing in the case, the Senate Republican leaders said Tuesday that they hope the plaintiffs drop the case in order to allow for reforms to the redistricting currently under consideration in the General Assembly to take shape.


A number of perennial reform measures are currently in the queue for consideration in both the House and the Senate that would enhance citizen participation in the drawing of congressional and state legislative maps, or make the process entirely citizen-driven.


Senators Scarnati and Corman said Tuesday that the ongoing litigation has caused the legislatively-driven reforms to languish as the issue before the courts is still undecided.


“As this case heads for the state Supreme Court, the costs to taxpayers only continue to mount,” said Sen. Corman. “We are asking the League of Women Voters and its 18 plaintiffs in the case to be respectful of taxpayers and their hard-earned money. Instead of working against us, we invite them to participate in our ongoing review of the redistricting process. We recognize the value in examining this process and identifying ways it could be improved.”


Pennsylvania—unlike some other states—currently does not have a legal prohibition against partisan and/or political considerations being used in drawing congressional maps.


Despite the recent pleas to halt the case, however, it appears as though the plaintiffs in the case have no intentions of stopping their litigation or trying to change Pennsylvania’s congressional map prior to the 2018 federal mid-term election.


In their brief submitted to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court late last week, the plaintiffs argued that, should the court invalidate the current map, then the General Assembly and governor should have two weeks to prepare a new map using nonpartisan considerations that would then be approved by the courts.


If General Assembly fails to meet that deadline, plaintiffs say, the court should appoint a special master to assist it in drawing a new map based on nonpartisan considerations.