On January 17, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held oral argument in Pennsylvania’s political redistricting lawsuit, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania et al., v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. More than 150 people attended, filling the Supreme Court courtroom and an overflow room. The seven justices were very engaged in the argument, which lasted for almost three hours.
The petitioners in the case – the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and 18 voters, one from each congressional district – are asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to rule the 2011 U.S. Congressional map unconstitutional and order it be redrawn. The Court showed interest in possible standards for determining when partisanship and intent to discriminate against voters go too far and violate the constitution.
“Today we heard the legislative respondents admit that the mapmakers identified Democratic voters and deliberately sorted them in particular districts to mute their voice in the political process,” said David Gersch, Senior Counsel with Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP. Mr. Gersch argued first, on behalf of the petitioners. “This historically extreme partisan gerrymander violates Pennsylvania’s Constitution, and Commonwealth voters should not have to endure one more election under a discriminatory and unconstitutional map.”
The justices also asked various questions about possible remedies and related timelines to determine whether a new map could be completed in time for the 2018 election. The petitioners have proposed that if the Court finds the map unconstitutional, it should order the legislature and Governor to agree to a new map within two weeks. Petitioners further recommend the Court concurrently appoint a special master to draw a new map in case the legislature and Governor cannot come to an agreement. Counsel representing the executive branch, including the Department of State which manages elections, assured the Court that it could run smooth, functioning elections on a delayed or condensed schedule, as necessary under the Court’s ruling.
“We are hopeful that today’s arguments helped the Court understand how important it is to not allow another congressional election to take place under this map, which discriminates against voters on the basis of their political views and their votes,” said Mimi McKenzie, Legal Director for the Public Interest Law Center, also representing the petitioners. “The current congressional map is one of the worst gerrymanders in American history. It makes a mockery of our representative democracy. Today we asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to enjoin this mockery and return elections to the voters.”
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court could issue an opinion within a matter of weeks. Filed in June in the state’s Commonwealth Court, this lawsuit alleges the current U.S. Congressional map violates the Pennsylvania Constitution because it was designed to override voter preferences and create a lopsided, 13-5 majority in favor of Republican congressional representatives. In November 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court assumed jurisdiction over the lawsuit by lifting a stay and granting the petitioners’ Application for Extraordinary Relief. In December, under order from the Supreme Court, the Commonwealth Court held expedited trial and issued Recommended Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.
Access all case documents here.