Rep. Costello: Map decision ‘corrupt;’ impeach justices
6th District rep claims state Supreme Court justices are guilty of ‘judicial activism’
U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-6th Dist., is lashing out at Democratic officials in Harrisburg, charging that the state Supreme Court’s majority and Gov. Tom Wolf have colluded in redrawing the state’s congressional district map, targeting him in particular to turn his district in his opponent’s favor in the November election.
“I think that this was a politically corrupt process,” Costello said from his office at the Historic Chester County Courthouse. He called on the state Legislature to begin impeachment proceedings against those on the high court who had voted in favor of the redistricting and redrew the map, “behind closed doors.”
He said the court gave the state Legislature little time to act on its order to redraw the state’s political map, and that the governor refused to negotiate with the Republican majority leaders in the two chambers of the General Assembly. The two branches worked together in violation of the state constitution, which gives the Legislature the power to set election districts, he claimed.
In response, the governor’s spokesman asserted that Costello had provided no concrete proof to verify his claims. “There is no evidence,” said Press Secretary J.J. Abbott.
Costello, in making his argument, said that Wolf refused to negotiate with the Legislature over the way the new maps should be drawn; “Therefore his refusal guaranteed the court would draw the map. He therefore colluded with the court to allow the court to unconstitutionally draw a partisan map.”
The result, he said, was a tainted new map of the state’s 18 congressional districts. “I thought the (state) Supreme Court would try to pretend or disguise their partisanship. But, in terms of my seat, it becomes very obvious it was a political power play. It’s known that the justices were funded by liberal forces. This is what they paid for, I guess.”
Citing circumstantial evidence, Costello accused Wolf of collusion because he allegedly failed to negotiate with the Legislature over a new map. The congressman suggested it was because the governor wanted the court to draw boundaries that would affect his re-election.
“It was rigged,” Costello told the Daily Local News. “It was rigged from the start.”
The state’s high court, led by its Democratic majority, imposed a new congressional district map for the state’s 2018 elections on Monday, potentially giving Democrats a boost in their quest to capture control of the U.S. House, unless Republicans can stop it in federal court.
The map of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts is to be in effect for the May 15 primary and substantially overhauls a Republicandrawn congressional map widely viewed as among the nation’s most gerrymandered. The map was approved in a 4-3 decision, with four Democratic justices backing it and one Democratic justice siding with two Republicans against it.
The divided court appears to have drawn its own map with the help of a Stanford University law professor, although some district designs are similar to proposals submitted to the court by Democrats.
Most significantly, the new map gives Democrats a better shot at winning a couple more seats, particularly in Philadelphia’s heavily populated and moderate suburbs. Political commentators immediately seized on the way the new map plays to Costello’s disadvantage, as it moved Republican areas of his current district away and added new Democratic ones.
The new map puts all of Chester County into one district, the 6th, instead of having it split among three separate ones. It erases from the district portions of Lebanon and Montgomery counties that had leaned Republican, and redraws the boundaries into Berks County to include the City of Reading and its suburbs, which are heavily Democratic.
A New York Times map analysis of the new map shows Chester County to have significant Democratic vote patterns in its northeastern, central, and south central municipalities, and high GOP turnout in southern, far northern, and western municipalities. “The result is a district that voted for Mrs. (Hillary) Clinton by nine points,” the paper reported. “It is fair to say that the incumbent representative, Ryan Costello, is in very serious trouble, and one wonders whether he will even be inclined to seek re-election.”
“Redistricting doesn’t just move the underlying partisanship of a district,” tweeted Nate Cohn, who cowrote the Times’ story. “It also erodes the advantage of incumbency. “Clinton+9” is bad enough, but it understates the blow that Costello just took.”
According to an article in the Cook Political Report, an independent, non-partisan national newsletter, the 6th District had flipped from a Partisan Voter Index rating of R+2 — that is, it would perform 2 percent better for Republican candidates than Democrats in nationwide results — to D+2, a boon for the Democrats. The newsletter had earlier noted that Costello was number five in the Top 10 of Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives who voted against their party, with 15 percent of his votes going across the aisle.
The new map was hailed by Democrats as being fairer than the previous “gerrymandered” map, and decried by Republicans as the product of judicial overreach. Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman Val DiGiorgio on Tuesday vowed the GOP would contest the map and the decision that brought it about in federal court, although a previous attempt seeking an intervention by attempting to get the U.S. Supreme Court involved in the case failed.
Costello’s likely Democratic opponent, businesswoman Chrissie Houlahan, praised the court’s decision.
The pair were expected to wage a fierce, costly, and competitive race through the year, even before the court weighed in on the gerrymandering issue last month. As of the end of 2017, Costello had $1.3 million on hand in campaign funds after raising $336,534 in the last quarter of the year. Houlahan, meanwhile, had $950,390 in the bank after taking in $417,041 in the same period.
President Donald Trump urged state Republicans to challenge the court’s map.
“Hope Republicans in the Great State of Pennsylvania challenge the new ‘pushed’ Congressional Map, all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. Your Original was correct! Don’t let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!” he tweeted.
The Democratic-majority state Supreme Court ruled last month in a party-line decision that the district boundaries unconstitutionally put partisan interests above neutral line-drawing criteria, such as keeping districts compact and eliminating municipal and county divisions.
It’s the first time a state court threw out congressional boundaries in a partisan gerrymandering case, this one brought by registered Democratic voters and the League of Women Voters last June.
Republicans appear to face an uphill battle in federal court.
Michael Morley, a constitutional law professor at Barry University in Florida, said federal courts are normally reluctant to undo a state court decision.
“I think it will be a major obstacle and a major challenge to get around it,” Morley said.
Pennsylvania’s Republican delegation has provided a crucial pillar of support for Republican control of the U.S. House since 2010.
Republicans who controlled the Legislature and the governor’s office after the 2010 census crafted the now-invalidated map to elect Republicans and succeeded in that aim: Republicans won 13 of 18 seats in three straight elections even though Pennsylvania’s registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans.
Meanwhile, sitting congressmen, dozens of wouldbe candidates and millions of voters were beginning to sort out which district they live in barely a month before the candidates’ deadline to submit paperwork to run.
Some races are wide open: There are six incumbents elected in 2016 not running again, the most in four decades.
Costello said on Tuesday that he would not comment directly on his plans to seek re-election, given the news of the new map. He said he would issue a statement in the coming week before nominating petitions begin to be circulated. He noted that for months, political workers in both parties had been set on campaigning in the old 6th District.
“I had every expectation of running again,” he said. “Now, I haven’t even fully processed what just happened over the past day.”
Again calling the court’s action a “politically corrupt decision,” Costello called on the Legislature to act. “I think the court did enough in the way of judicial activism to be impeached. And I hope that all the state senators and representatives who have been sent to Harrisburg by the voters of Chester County will vote for impeachment. If they don’t, (they are allowing the justices) to violate the constitution.”
The new Pennsylvania congressional districts redrawn by the Democratic majority on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court favor Democratic candidates running in November.