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Pennsylvania Supreme Court orders lower court to hear and rule on gerrymandering case by end of year

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania [official website] issued a per curiam order [text, PDF] Thursday vacating a decision by the Commonwealth Court to stay a hearing in a gerrymandering case, League of Women Voters v. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania [docket]. The outcome of the case is virtually guaranteed to have a substantial impact on the results of the upcoming 2018 elections.

Last month, the Commonwealth Court granted [order, PDF] a request by Respondents in the case -- Republican members of the General Assembly including House Speaker Michael Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati -- apparently agreeing with their argument that the case should only proceed after the US Supreme Court has reached a decision in Gill v. Whitford [SCOTUSblog backgrounder], a case involving gerrymandering in Wisconsin. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's order yesterday makes clear they disagree, stating "the present case involves issues of immediate public importance requiring this Court’s assumption of plenary jurisdiction."

The Petitioners in this case include the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, as well as residents of all 18 congressional districts. Noting that 13 of those 18 districts have gone to Republican candidates in recent elections, "even when Democratic candidates win a majority of votes statewide," the Petitioners application [text, PDF] to the Supreme Court for extraordinary relief called the congressional districts "rigged."

Following the 2010 census, the Republican-controlled General Assembly employed sophisticated technology to gerrymander the Commonwealth’s congressional districts more egregiously and effectively than ever before, manipulating district boundaries to discriminate against Petitioners and other Democratic voters on the basis of their political views, their votes, and the party with which they choose to associate. The gerrymander of Pennsylvania congressional districts has been ranked as one of the most “extreme” in the nation, and by some measures, it is the “worst offender” in the country.

The Supreme Court ordered the Commonwealth Court to file its " its findings of fact and conclusions of law no later than December 31, 2017."

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