Pennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down Congressional district map

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the state's congressional map Monday, granting a major victory to Democrats who charged that the 18 districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Republicans.

If you felt a certain fondness for Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has bad news for you: after a 4-3 ruling by the court Monday, it's gone - and will be replaced by a newly shaped district by mid-February.

Under the order, the legislature must redraw the map, with the approval of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, and submit it to the court by February 15.

Four of the Pennsylvania high court's seven justices said the new map must be ready for the state's May 15 primaries, though not for a March 13 special election that pits Democrat Conor Lamb against Republican Rick Saccone for a seat vacated by Republican Tim Murphy.

"We won the whole thing", said David Gersch of the Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer law firm in Washington, D.C., which is helping represent the group of registered Democrats who filed the lawsuit last June.

The ruling comes the same month a three-judge federal panel ruled that North Carolina's congressional map is unconstitutional because it was drawn primarily with political motives in mind.

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It is expected that the new map for the 16th District, now held by Rep. Lloyd Smucker, will likely stay similar or get a few additional Republican voters - likely returning to a more familiar shape seen prior to 2011. Because the decision was a matter of state, and not federal law, it's unlikely the U.S. Supreme Court will intervene.

Since gaining control of the state legislature in time to redraw maps after the 2010 Census, Republicans have rather easily held on to 13 of 18 districts during the last decade.

The state Senate president, Joe Scarnati, and majority leader, Jake Corman, both Republicans, called the court's deadline "impossible" and said they would request a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Congressional districts must consist of compact and contiguous territory that do not divide any county, city, municipality or ward, except when needed to ensure districts have equal populations, the court's order says.

Gov. Tom Wolf said his administration is reviewing the order and assessing the executive branch's next steps in this process. "I want to thank and compliment the attorneys and parties who brought this before the Supreme Court and helped right this obvious wrong".

The justices said an opinion would be released soon.

  • Sonia Alvarado