On Monday, the Justice Samuel Alito rejected an effort by Republican leaders in Pennsylvania to restore a Republican gerrymander that has allowed Republicans to dominate the state’s congressional delegation even in years when Democrats won the statewide popular vote.
Though stay requests such as this one are directed to a single justice as a matter of process, that justice typically refers the matter to the full Court if they believe that the request raises a serious legal argument. The fact that Alito, a staunch conservative, unilaterally denied this request speaks to the weakness of the GOP’s claims.
Last month, the state supreme court ordered new maps drawn for the 2018 election. Now that the Supreme Court of the United States has officially stayed its hand, the state’s gerrymandered congressional districts are all but certain to become a relic of the past.
The Republican leaders’ effort to reinstate their gerrymandered maps was always a long shot. Pennsylvania’s supreme court decision relied entirely on the state constitution, and the United States Supreme Court does not have the authority to overrule a state supreme court’s interpretation of state law. Nevertheless, the Republican leaders raised arguments that conflict with a line of precedents that the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed as recently as 2015.
Had the Republicans prevailed, they could have potentially changed the outcome of the 2018 midterm elections. Under the gerrymandered maps, Republicans have won 13 of 18 seats in the state’s congressional district every year since 2012 — even though Democrats won the statewide popular vote in 2012.
Last week, Pennsylvania Senate President pro tempore Joseph Scarnati (R) told the state supreme court that he would not comply with parts of its anti-gerrymandering order. Now that the state supreme court’s decision is officially safe from molestation, Scarnati is likely to find himself in contempt of court if he does not change his tune.