Pennsylvania Supreme Court Explains Ruling in Redistricting Case

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court finally released its long-awaited explanation regarding its decision in the redistricting case.

On January 22, the state Supreme Court ruled that the congressional map is unconstitutional. The legislature and the governor must redraw the state’s congressional district by February 15. The state’s high court also indicated that its full opinion on the matter will follow.

The Pennsylvania Republican leaders challenged the redistricting ruling. According to them, the state Supreme Court “overstepped its legal authority.”  It “set an impossible deadline that will cause chaos in the upcoming congressional election.”

They filed a stay petition with the U.S. Supreme Court. On Monday, the country’s highest court upheld the ruling of the state’s high court.                                   

Congressional map violates equal elections clause of Pennsylvania Constitution

On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a 139-page opinion on the redistricting case. The state high court explained that the state’s congressional map “clearly, plainly, and palpably violates the free and equal elections clause of our Constitution.”

Justice Debra McCloskey Todd wrote that Article 1 Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution states:

Elections shall be free and equal; and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right to suffrage.

Justice Todd stressed that this clause mandates clearly and unambiguously that all elections in Pennsylvania must be “free and equal.”  According to them, the mandate means all aspects of the electoral process must be kept open and unrestricted to the voters of the state.

Therefore, Article 1 Section 5 guarantees an equal right to all citizens in the state to elect their representatives. In other words, “all voters have an equal opportunity to translate their votes into representation.”

Congressional map diluted Democrats’ votes

In addition, Justice Todd emphasized the congressional map violated the provision because the districts were unequal. It diluted the votes of Democrats. She noted that since the redistricting in 2011, Republicans consistently won 13 of the 18 congressional districts.

 

The court believes that congressional map diluted the voters of Democrats and favored Republicans. The party registrations show that Democrats surpass Republicans statewide.

Justice Todd wrote, “By placing voters preferring one party’s candidates in districts where their votes are wasted on candidates likely to lose (cracking), or by placing such voters in districts where their votes are cast for candidates destined to win (packing), the non-favored party’s votes are diluted. It is axiomatic that a diluted vote is not an equal vote, as all voters do not have an equal opportunity to translate their votes into representation.”

In addition, she emphasized, “An election corrupted by extensive, sophisticated gerrymandering and partisan dilution of votes is not ‘free and equal.’ In such circumstances, a ‘power, civil or military,’ to wit, the General Assembly, has in fact “interfere[d] to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.”

Traditional requirements for redistricting plan 

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated that a redistricting plan must comply with the traditional requirements under the Constitution. It must be:

  • composed of compact and contiguous territory
  • as nearly equal in population as practicable
  • do not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward except where necessary to ensure equality of population