The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has created a new congressional map after a January 22 ruling on allegations of unfair districts due to gerrymandering. This happened after the Court decided none of the seven maps presented by the legislature, executive and citizen groups met their guidelines.
Generally, gerrymandering is considered a political issue rather than a legal one, so there is no need for judicial involvement. In other words, although gerrymandering may, objectively, not be “fair” for some groups, it’s not illegal per se. However, given the timing of events and how they were carried out, the creation of PA’s new map has put the Court in the driver’s seat of what appears to be politics at play.
Consider this: The PA Supreme Court gave the legislature a mere two-week timeline to create a new map and acquire approval by the governor. A successful agreement, given these parameters, would be nothing short of historic and taught in college government classes as a political anomaly. Additionally, the Court’s hired gun, Stanford law professor Nathaniel Persily, was brought in on January 26 to draw the new map. For those keeping track, that’s four days after the ruling and two weeks before the legislature’s deadline.
The matter becomes increasingly suspicious since majority opinion on the matter was not filed until February 7. If you’re counting, that’s two days before a new map was due. It provided no guidelines for an acceptable map other than it needed to be, “compact and contiguous, while containing roughly the same number of citizens.” One could argue the Court is setting us up for failure and the disingenuous nature of the timeline speaks for itself. This purposeful
ambiguity and unrealistic timing were clear indicators of approaching unconstitutional actions.
If the Court was not operating as a political actor, how has the previous map been in play for three election cycles without challenge? The Court even defied its own order by dividing communities and districts unnecessarily. Their obligation is to test the map against legal standards, just as it did when it approved the 2011 map. However, the Court wrote the law and self-determined its constitutionality.
Given the Court’s actions, this is no longer a political problem but a legal issue. The Court blatantly usurped legislative authority as defined in Article 1 Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, which states, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof… .”
The sequence of events and actors who implemented the new map, has led legal scholars to assert constitutional overreach and a violation of the established checks and balances. Two separate lawsuits opposing the new map were filed in federal court. Supporters of the new map continued to implore a disregard for constitutional protections and maintained the decision based on emotion. A common argument included a call to subjective fairness with complete contempt for the process. The law matters, and constitutional safety nets were established to prevent these precise actions.
On the afternoon of March 19, the day before U.S. House nomination petitions were due, a federal three-judge panel hearing the first lawsuit, which was brought on by eight U.S. Congressmen, refused to issue a preliminary injunction. Mere hours later, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered the final blow. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito ruled the application for a stay would not be heard by the land’s highest court. It’s official, the map created by Pennsylvania’s judicial branch will remain — at least until the next census in two years.
The lesson to be learned: Voting matters. Elections have consequences. And, yes, even your vote counts.