GOP Leaders To Seek Halt To Pennsylvania Congressional Map

Feb 21, 2018

Republican leaders of the Pennsylvania Legislature said Wednesday they will soon ask the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the imposition of new congressional district maps, two days after they were announced by the state's highest court.

House Speaker Mike Turzai said that later Wednesday he and his Senate counterpart will request an emergency stay of what he called a "completely partisan, ultimate gerrymander."

The challenge adds uncertainty as candidates are preparing to circulate nominating petitions to get their names on the May primary ballot.

Turzai said a separate action in federal court in Harrisburg is also possible.

The Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court in January threw out a 2011 congressional district map that had been drafted by Republicans, saying it violated the state constitution's guarantee of free and equal elections.

It will be the third time in four months that Turzai and Scarnati have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to put a halt to litigation over the 2011 map they took leading roles in producing. In November, Justice Samuel Alito turned down a request for a stay of a federal lawsuit, a case that Turzai and Scarnati won in January.

On Feb. 5, Alito rejected a request from Turzai and Scarnati to halt a Jan. 22 order from the state Supreme Court that gave the Republican leaders two weeks to propose a map that would be supported by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, and until last week to suggest a new map to the court.

With the new map expected to improve Democrats' chances at erasing the GOP's U.S. House majority, President Donald Trump on Tuesday urged Republicans to challenge the new map 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 five Democrats on the Supreme Court sided with Democratic voters who challenged the map, although one of them, Justice Max Baer, has pointedly opposed the compressed timetable.

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

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 GOP-drawn map, but not all of it.

The Department of State has revised this year's election calendar — for congressional races only — to provide more time.

Congressional candidates have from Feb. 27 to March 20 to collect and submit enough signatures to get on the ballot, and the new maps have candidates and would-be candidates scrambling to decide whether to jump in. Five incumbents are not seeking another term and a sixth has resigned, an unusually large number of openings.

The new map is not in effect for the March 13 special congressional election in southwestern Pennsylvania, a vacancy created by the resignation of Republican Rep. Tim Murphy in October. Murphy, a vocal opponent of abortion, quit after his hometown newspaper reported he had suggested a mistress get an abortion when they thought she might be pregnant.

The state Supreme Court's map puts both candidates in that race into districts with a Pittsburgh-area incumbent. That means Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone will likely be circulating petitions for the primary in one district at the same time they are running in the special election for Murphy's seat under the 2011 map.