Lawmakers Quibble Over New Congressional Map, With Guidelines ‘A Total Mystery’

Jan 31, 2018

A week into the three-week period the state Supreme Court allotted lawmakers to redraw Pennsylvania’s congressional maps, not much concrete progress has been made.

After declaring the current maps unconstitutional, the court gave the GOP-controlled legislature until Feb. 9 to send new maps to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. If he doesn’t approve them by Feb. 15, the court will choose a new map itself.

Any talks among legislative leaders on the redrawing process have so far been secret—even from most rank-and-file members.

But because the deadline is so close, and because it takes at least a week to pass a bill from scratch, lawmakers have begun moving shell measures through the approval process.

They plan to add language to actually change the maps later.

Republican Appropriations Committee Chair Pat Browne, who oversaw the skeleton measure passing through his committee Tuesday, confirmed that drawing meetings are indeed happening.

But he declined to give any details.

He maintained that the legislature is at a severe disadvantage, because the court still hasn’t released its full opinion.

“Any guidance that’s available to us to meet their stipulations as far as what they want is a total mystery to us, but we’re trying to accommodate their ruling,” he said.

The Wolf administration disagrees.

JJ Abbott, a spokesman for Wolf, said the guidance the court issued in its initial order is plenty to go on.

The key issues with the current maps, he said, are “a lack of compactness and contiguous territory for the districts, [and] a lot of splits of population areas that are not necessary.”

“We believe that’s a framework you can follow to build a fair map,” he said.

The legislative caucuses and governor have started retaining experts to consult on the new maps.

Between those expert fees and publishing expenses, Browne’s committee estimated the redrawing process will cost between $1.13 and $1.28 million.

Wolf’s office has already publicly tapped one expert, Tufts University Professor Moon Duchin, to help them.

Duchin specializes in drawing fair legislative districts. According to Abbott, her role will be to work with other experts to analyze any map the legislature comes up with, and advise the administration on whether to accept it, or draw its own.