Pennsylvania legislators again ask US Supreme Court to block redistricting order

Pennsylvania legislators again ask US Supreme Court to block redistricting order

Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and House Speaker Mike Turzai [official bios] on Wednesday asked the US Supreme Court [official website] to stay [petition, PDF] an earlier decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court [official website] setting aside the state’s congressional map as unconstitutional [JURIST report].

Scarnati and Turzai claim that the state Supreme Court “conspicuously seized the redistricting process and prevented any meaningful ability for the legislature to enact a remedial map to ensure a court drawn map” when it required the legislature and governor to agree to a map by a court-imposed deadline. The legislators are challenging the state Supreme Court’s determination that congressional districts to be equal, compact and contiguous [JURIST report] as being found “nowhere in the Pennsylvania Constitution” and contrary to an earlier court ruling.

Turzai and Scarnati are especially concerned about the process the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced for remedying the unconstitutional maps. The court’s January 22 order striking down the maps was not accompanied by a majority opinion outlining the court’s reasoning. That opinion was not released by the court until February 7. Meanwhile, the earlier order required the legislature to present a new map the governor by February 9, and to submit a mutually agreeable map to the court by February 15. If the parties could not agree to a new map by the deadline, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said that it would issue it’s own map so as not to unduly delay the preliminary stages of the state’s upcoming congressional elections. Scarnati and Turzai assert that the court’s plan was designed to fail.

[T]he Pennsylvania Supreme Court provided an inadequate remedial opportunity to the General Assembly, thus ensuring a court drawn map. It did not issue an opinion with its initial order and did not provide its sufficient guidance on how a new map could be drawn in compliance with the Pennsylvania Constitution. It nevertheless gave the General Assembly a mere 18 days, until February 9, to enact new legislation before the Court would impose a plan of its own, and even reserved the right to review the enacted map. Indeed, that was the court’s intention all along. It proceeded to hire a political scientist to prepare for a judicial, rather than a legislative, redistricting.

They assert that this violates the federal Constitution’s Election Clause [Art. I § 4 text], and characterizes the state Supreme Court’s position as

in essence that the Elections Clause simply delegates authority to the states and is indifferent to whether the Legislature or, alternatively, the courts or executive branch either conducts the redistricting or creates the rules governing it. But that view simply reads the word “Legislature” out of the Constitution, and effectively delegates redistricting authority to whichever branch of state government wins the will-to-power contest to control elections to federal congressional office.

The legislature did submit a map to Governor Tom Wolf [official website], but Wolf rejected it [JURIST report] with two days remaining before the court’s deadline. Without a plan approved by the legislature and governor, the Supreme Court issued its own map [JURIST report] on Monday.

The legislators had sought a stay [JURIST report] from the US Supreme Court before the state Supreme Court’s majority opinion was issued. Justice Samuel Alito, who is assigned to hear emergency requests from Pennsylvania, denied [JURIST report] the request without comment.