In brief order handed down on Monday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that that state’s gerrymandered congressional maps violate the state constitution. That state’s map is so aggressively gerrymandered that Republicans won 13 of the state’s 18 congressional districts in 2012, despite the fact that Democrats won a majority of the popular vote — and Republicans have held those districts ever since.
Significantly, the court’s order specifies that the struck down the state’s congressional maps on the “sole basis” that it “plainly and palpably violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the final arbiter of questions of state constitutional law, so the court’s reliance on Pennsylvania’s constitution should prevent this case from being appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which has a Republican majority.
Under the state supreme court’s order, the state legislature must submit new maps to the governor by February 9, and the governor has until February 15 to approve the maps and submit them to the court for review. If these deadlines are not met, “this Court shall proceed expeditiously to adopt a plan based on the evidentiary record developed in the Commonwealth Court.”
One bright light for Republicans in Monday’s order is that it requires districts to be “composed of compact and contiguous territory” and that they “do not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary to ensure equality of population.” Because Democrats tend to live clustered together in cities, while Republicans tend to be more spread out across suburbs and rural areas, a requirement to draw compact maps that incorporate county and municipal boundaries will tend to favor Republicans.
Nevertheless, Monday’s decision moves Pennsylvania towards a much fairer electoral system, and will remove several bricks in the red wall Republicans build in the House of Representatives through gerrymandering.
The case is League of Women Voters v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The court also announced that it will release a full opinion at a future time.