Court ruling sets stage for real reform
Our “goofy” Congressional districts are no longer a laughing matter.
That became clear when a Commonwealth Court judge agreed with the League of Women Voters and others in ruling that the redistricting process done by the Pennsylvania Legislature back in 2011 based on the results of the 2010 census was blatantly partisan.
Here’s a stunner. Republicans control both the state House and Senate.
So their version of redistricting was heavily tilted to protect GOP incumbents. It’s called “gerrymandering,” and in Pennsylvania it’s an art form.
Redistricting is done every 10 years to reflect the changes in the census. Since it’s done by politicians, it should surprise no one that it drips with partisan shenanigans. In essence, to the victor go the spoils.
This time around, that meant that district boundaries were twisted and contorted into bizarre shapes, all to the benefit of Republican congressmen.
That’s part of the reason Republicans sit in 13 of the state’s 18 districts, despite facing a growing Democratic majority in registered voters and despite the state’s clear Democratic drift in recent elections.
The judge agreed with everything those who filed suit against the redistricting plan put forth. Except for one. His recommendation to the state Supreme Court was that it was not necessarily unconstitutional.
Here’s one more stunner. The high court disagreed. This week they tossed out the Congressional maps.
And here’s the biggest stunner of all. Not only did the court toss the maps, they ordered the Legislature to draw up new ones and submit them to Gov. Tom Wolf by Feb. 15. And if they did not the court suggested they would do it themselves.
In effect, the court said they want new boundaries for the state’s congressional districts – including that outrageous “Goofy kicking Donald Duck” design of the 7th District seat here in Delaware County– in time for the May primaries. That’s a huge task. Republicans are not happy at this outcome. They are asking the state Supreme Court to stay their own order. It did not escape anyone’s attention that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is a 5-2 Democratic majority.
On Thursday they took their fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the justices to halt the Pa. order. They claim the judges don’t have the authority to do what they did, that this falls under the preview of the Legislature. There is some merit to the claim put forth by state Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and House Speaker Mike Turzai – both Republicans by the way that the ruling could throw the 2018 Congressional election into chaos.
In a few weeks, candidates will start collecting signatures on their nominating petitions. Voters will go to the polls in the primary in May.
“The court’s decision poses a profound threat to the integrity of Pennsylvania’s upcoming Congressional elections,” their filing states.
All of this is just one more reason to get this entire process out of the hands of politicians.
The court sent the matter back to the Legislature, but that still means political concerns will hold forth.
And yes, it has not escaped our notice that the Democratic high court tossed a process that favored Republican candidates.
We favor a plan put forth by a group called Fair Districts PA.
They suggest making redistricting the domain of an 11-member independent, nonpartisan commission, starting with the results of the upcoming 2020 census. It won’t be easy. To do that supporters will need to pass an amendment to the state constitution.
And to do that the Legislature would have to approve bills in two successive sessions just to get the measure in front of the voters via referendum by 2020.
The alternative is more of the same, with political considerations still holding sway over a process critical to our democratic underpinnings.
The ruling by the state Supreme Court was a good start.
Now it’s time for the Legislature and state voters to finish the job.