Pennsylvania’s Democratic-majority Supreme Court on Wednesday wrested control of choosing new district lines for the state’s congressional delegation, a process that has stalled the governor and legislature.
The five Democratic justices issued an order directing a lower judge to deliver to them by Monday a report recommending a new map, along with his supporting legal and factual findings.
It’s the second time in four years the state’s High Court has stepped in to lead the congressional constituency in the politically polarized state, and the latest example across the country of state courts potentially giving Democrats a swipe. thumbs up in highly charged battles over redistricting.
Chief Justice Max Baer, a Democrat, said the court was stepping in to speed up the process.
“The threat of a delay in appealing the Commonwealth Court’s decision to this court reduces the few days this court has to obtain briefs, consider this complex and important case and render a decision,” Baer wrote. , noting the state’s election pressures. calendar.
The decision came after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a proposed map that passed the Republican-majority legislature along almost party lines.
Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough, a Republican, will serve as “special master”. Parties to the redistricting case she is handling who object to her report can do so in the Supreme Court by February 14. Oral arguments will take place on February 18.
Collection of signatures for petitions to be presented in the May 17 primary ballot is scheduled to begin on February 15 but could be delayed. The two Republican Supreme Court dissenters.
Judge Sallie Mundy, a Republican, said she would rather let McCullough issue a ruling and an opinion and then expedite an appeal, rather than let the court exercise its jurisdiction at this point.
The majority of the court said it was acting because of the impasse between Wolf and the General Assembly, adding that it considered “time is running out”. McCullough was also tasked with giving the justices a proposed revision to election deadlines.
Last week, Democrats called on the Supreme Court to repeat McCullough’s process, arguing that its own precedent says the Supreme Court should select a new card when the executive and legislative branches are deadlocked, not a judge. of a lower court.
Democrats had argued that it would go against that precedent by allowing McCullough to issue an ordinance enacting a particular card she selects. Instead, they said, the court should follow its 1992 precedent, when it appointed a Commonwealth Court judge as a special master to provide a recommendation to the state Supreme Court.
Relatively slow population growth over the past decade has cost Pennsylvania a seat in Congress, so the new map must account for a drop in delegation from 18 to 17.
In Ohio, the state Supreme Court struck down aggressively pro-Republican maps drawn by the GOP-controlled legislature, ruling they violated a 2018 ballot measure against partisan gerrymandering.
The North Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments in a case in which Democrats and civil rights groups argue that maps drawn by the state’s GOP violate their state’s constitution’s ban on draw lines for the benefit of one party.
And a federal court last month ordered Republicans in Alabama to draw a map of Congress with a second congressional district in which black voters could choose their representative, which would likely give Democrats a new seat in that state deeply conservative.
In Pennsylvania, judges in 2018 rejected a Republican-crafted map that produced a lasting 13-5 GOP advantage in congressional seats. The court replaced it with a map that has since produced nine Republican and nine Democratic members of Congress from Pennsylvania.
Associated Press writer Nicholas Riccardi in Denver contributed to this report.