SCOTUS rejects GOP appeal of PA congressional map, more redistricting cases to follow

The legal strategy of challenging GOP gerrymandering under state constitutional provisions rather than federal law has proven successful in Pennsylvania. Abstention doctrine applies, i.e., the federal courts lack jurisdiction to hear appeals from state Supreme Court decisions interpreting state constitution provisions.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal from GOP legislative leaders in the state of Pennsylvania challenging the Supreme Court of the state of Pennsylvania imposing new congressional districts after having struck down GOP gerrymandered districts as unconstitutional under the state constitution. Supreme Court refuses to stop new congressional maps in Pennsylvania:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned down a request from Republican legislative leaders in Pennsylvania to block a redrawn congressional map that creates more parity between the political parties in the state.

The practical impact is the 2018 elections are likely to be held under a map much more favorable to Democrats, who scored an apparent victory last week in a special election in a strongly Republican congressional district. The 2011 map that has been used this decade has resulted in Republicans consistently winning 13 of the state’s 18 congressional seats.

Monday’s action was the second time that the court declined to get involved in the partisan battle that has roiled Pennsylvania politics. The commonwealth’s highest court earlier this year ruled that a map drawn by Republican leaders in 2011 “clearly, plainly and palpably” violated the free-and-equal-elections clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The U.S. Supreme Court deliberated nearly two weeks before turning down the request to stop the map from being used in this fall’s elections. Generally the justices stay out of the way when a state’s highest court is interpreting its own state constitution.

The action came shortly after a three-judge federal panel also turned down a separate attempt by Republican legislators and members of Congress to stop implementation of the map.

The Supreme Court gave no reasoning in its one-sentence order, only that it was considered by all nine justices. There were no noted dissents.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) praised the courts.

“I applaud these decisions that will allow the upcoming election to move forward with the new and fair congressional maps,” Wolf said in a statement. “The people of Pennsylvania are tired of gerrymandering and the new map corrects past mistakes that created unfair congressional districts and attempted to diminish the impact of citizens’ votes.”

Candidates face a Tuesday deadline to qualify to run for the redrawn seats.

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Political analysts say the changes in Pennsylvania might aid national Democrats in their attempt to flip the House from Republican control. Democrats need to take about two dozen seats to win the majority, and Pennsylvania could provide some of that total. Six incumbents, five of them Republicans, have said they will not be on the fall ballot.

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[Q]ualifying has already begun under the new map and that “at least 150 candidates in all 18 new districts have begun collecting voter signatures on nomination petitions” for May 15 primaries.

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The victory in Pennsylvania for opponents of partisan gerrymandering suggests a new mode of attack, by challenging redistricting in state courts under state constitutions.

Authoritarian Tea-Publicans in the Pennsylvania legislature previously  had threatened to impeach the state supreme court in retaliation for its striking down the GOP gerrymandered congressional districts as unconstitutional and imposing its own fairer map. On Tuesday, these crypto-fascists began to follow through on their threat. Pa. Republican state legislator moves to impeach four state Supreme Court justices:

One day after federal courts declined to block the new congressional map from taking effect, Republican state Rep. Cris Dush, of Jefferson County, introduced resolutions to impeach the four Democrats on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court – Justices Christine Donohue, Kevin Dougherty, Debra Todd, and David Wecht – who ruled to impose the map in time for the May 15 primary.

The justices, along with fellow Democrat Max Baer, voted to strike down the old map of congressional districts, ruling they were unconstitutionally drawn to favor Republicans. But a second vote by the four imposed a new map for the May 15 primary. Baer dissented on that second plank in the ruling; Republican Justices Sallie Updyke Mundy and Thomas Saylor dissented on both decisions.

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How far Dush’s bill could go is unclear. First, the full House would have to find the justices had committed impeachable offenses, and then the justices would face a trial before the state Senate. Convicting and removing them from office would require the approval of two-thirds of senators present. Republicans hold a 34-16 majority in the chamber. [Republicans hold enough seats to impeach the judges without any Democratic votes thanks to their gerrymandering of  state legislative districts.]

Sen. Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) declined to comment Tuesday, noting that if articles of impeachment were to pass the House — which would require only a simple majority — he and other senators would act as jurors. “We, obviously, are supposed to be impartial listening to that evidence,” he said.

It is this “Dush-bag” fascist who is the one who should be removed from office.

Dush’s resolutions drew a quick rebuke from Democrats. House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D., Allegheny) called the resolutions “an attack on the independence of every judge in our state, one of the bedrock principles of our democracy,” in a statement. “If pursued, this would be a clear and present danger to the administration of justice in Pennsylvania.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has never thrown out a state’s redistricting plan by finding it so infected with partisan bias that it violates voters’ constitutional rights. But several cases asserting this theory are pending on the Court’s docket. Axios.com reports,  Here’s where the big redistricting court fights stand:

Wisconsin

The latest: The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case this spring.

  • The backdrop: Wisconsin Republicans appealed a lower-court ruling that struck down the legislative map drawn in 2011 citing that it was unconstitutional because it’s heavily skewed in their favor. The court later ordered the state to draw a new map by Nov. 2017, a request the U.S. Supreme Court blocked when it agreed to hear the case last year.
  • Why it matters: If the justices uphold a lower court ruling challenging the State Assembly Districts, this would be the first time the Supreme Court strikes down a voting map on the grounds of partisan gerrymandering.

Maryland

The latest: ​The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a partisan gerrymandering case on March 28. A decision is expected by June.

  • The backdrop: The case centers on the 6th congressional district, which was redrawn in 2011 to include parts of the heavily Democratic Montgomery County. ​While Republican voters argue that the Democratic-controlled legislature is unfairly drawn, three judges ruled against the plaintiffs’ request to discontinue the use of the current map ahead of the 2018 midterm election.
  • Why it matters: ​This is the only redistricting legal battle filed against Democrats. Republicans there said the current map has diluted their votes and cost an incumbent his seat.​

Texas

The latest: The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in January to hear a racially-charged gerrymandering case sometime this spring, with a decision likely by June.

  • The backdrop: Two congressional and eight state legislative districts were ruled unconstitutional racial gerrymanders after a court said they violated the Voting Rights Act because lawmakers intentionally designed them to dilute the political power of minority voters who favor Democrats. Last year, the Supreme Court blocked a redrawing order for new maps ahead of this year’s midterm as they consider an appeal from the state.
  • Why it matters: This is a short-term victory for Republicans who appealed a lower court ruling that ordered them to draw new maps to remedy the alleged infractions ahead of this year’s midterm election.

North Carolina

The latest: The U.S. Supreme Court in January issued a temporary hold on ordering the state legislature to redraw its excessively partisan congressional map.

  • Why it matters: This is a short-term victory for Republicans who hold 10 of the 13 U.S. House seats there. The high court did not say when the case would be resolved, but constitutional law expert and University of Richmond law professor, Carl Tobias, told Axios that the ruling issued in the Wisconsin case could be use to determine the North Carolina challenge after an appealed is filed.

Virginia

The latest: The Virginia Supreme Court is reviewing a racially-charged case regarding the 2011 redrawing of the states’ House of Delegates district lines.

  • The backdrop: The U.S. Supreme Court told the lower court in March of last year that it must be reexamined for racial bias.
  • Why it matters: The case centers on concerns that the map, drawn by Virginia’s Republican-led legislature, had deliberately packed black voters together to limit their influence so surrounding districts could be more winnable for GOP lawmakers.

Michigan

The latest: ​A federal court will hear oral arguments on March 20 that seek to toss out the current legislative and congressional maps crafted by state Republicans.

  • The backdrop: Filed last December, the challenge came days after a Michigan citizen-led group submitted more than 425,000 signatures for a 2018 redistricting ballot reform initiative that would change how electoral districts are drawn. The petition signatures are under review.
  • Why it matters: ​The suit wants new electoral lines if the legislature does not pass a constitutional redistricting plan that would mandate an independent commission to draw a new map.

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