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Supreme Court declines request from Pennsylvania GOP to stop redistricting

Posted at 1:54 PM, Feb 05, 2018

The Supreme Court declined Monday a request from Pennsylvania Republicans to block a lower court ruling that ordered Pennsylvania to redraw congressional lines.

Justice Samuel Alito issued the order.

The ruling will have massive ramifications for the 2018 midterm elections, where Republicans' control of the US House is on the line and Democrats are targeting a handful of GOP-held seats in Pennsylvania.

Republicans had hoped the Supreme Court would keep the current maps -- where Republicans hold 12 of 18 seats in Pennsylvania and are expected to keep a 13th in a March special election -- in place through this year's elections.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, following a challenge from Democrats, enjoined the existing congressional districts in the 2018 primary and general elections holding that the Republican-drawn maps "clearly, plainly and palpably violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania." The court said the Pennsylvania General Assembly should submit a congressional redistricting plan later this week.

"If the governor accepts the General Assembly's congressional districting plan, it shall be submitted to this court on or before February 15," the court wrote. "If no plan is submitted, that court would adopt a plan based on the evidentiary record developed in the Commonwealth Court."

GOP state House Speaker Michael Turzai argued in court papers that "rather than apply the law as handed down from Pennsylvania's proper lawmakers, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has apparently divined its new criteria from generic state constitutional guarantees of free speech and equal protection."

Turzai wanted the Supreme Court to step in arguing in part that the state court opinion violated the elections clause of the US Constitution.

Could benefit Democrats

Democrats are already targeting at least four seats: Those of retiring Reps. Charlie Dent in Lehigh Valley and Pat Meehan in the Philadelphia suburbs -- plus two districts neighboring Meehan's, those of Reps. Ryan Costello and Brian Fitzpatrick.

The districts of Meehan and Costello are particularly glaring examples of misshapen maps created through partisan gerrymandering, Democrats say.

If new maps are drawn in a way that would tip Pennsylvania's balance in Democrats' direction, it would buoy the party's chances of picking up the 24 House seats it needs to win a majority.

This will all have to shake out in short order: Pennsylvania's filing deadline is March 6, and its primary election is May 15.