Pennsylvania GOP leader tells state supreme court he will ignore its anti-gerrymandering order

Contempt.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 3:
Principals and protestors in front of the Supreme Court while the Justices hear arguments on gerrymandering, on October, 03, 2017 in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 3: Principals and protestors in front of the Supreme Court while the Justices hear arguments on gerrymandering, on October, 03, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

In an audacious move by a political leader who could potentially be held in contempt of court, Pennsylvania Senate President pro tempore Joseph Scarnati (R) informed the state supreme court on Wednesday that he will openly defy one of the court’s recent orders in a gerrymandering case.

On January 22, the state supreme court struck down the state’s gerrymandered congressional maps — maps which enabled the GOP to win 13 of the state’s 18 congressional districts even in years when Democrats won the statewide popular vote. That order explained that the state’s maps must be “composed of compact and contiguous territory” and must not “divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary to ensure equality of population.” It also gave the legislature until February 9 to draw new maps, and the governor until February 15 to approve the maps and submit them to the court for review.

If either deadline is not met, “this Court shall proceed expeditiously to adopt a plan based on the evidentiary record developed in the Commonwealth Court.”

Four days after its initial order, on January 26, the court issued a subsequent order requiring the legislature to turn over certain data — including geolocation files “that contain the current boundaries of all Pennsylvania municipalities and precincts” and various reports analyzing how well the legislature’s proposed new maps comply with the court’s January 22 order.

In a letter from his legal counsel, Scarnati explicitly refuses to comply with the second order. Though the letter claims that “the General Assembly is currently advancing bills aimed at creating an alternative map,” the letter also states that “Senator Scarnati will not be turning over any data identified in the Court’s Orders.”

Scarnati’s stated reason for this defiance is his belief that the court’s January 22 order “violates the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause.” Last week, Scarnati sought a stay of the January 22 order from the Supreme Court of the United States, claiming that only the state legislature and not the state courts are constitutionally allowed to weigh in on questions of gerrymandering. The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet ruled on this stay request, which means that both the January 22 order and the January 26 order remain binding upon Scarnati.

As ThinkProgress previously explained, Scarnati’s request for a stay also conflicts with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistrict Commission. It is also difficult to square with the Court’s landmark 1803 decision in Marbury v. Madison, which held that “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”