US Supreme Court declines quick congressional map appeal

Frederick Owens
February 10, 2018

"An election corrupted by extensive, sophisticated gerrymandering and partisan dilution of votes is not 'free and equal, ' " Justice Debra McCloskey Todd wrote for the majority.

A Supreme Court ruling this week upheld new Guilford County legislative districts drawn by a court-appointed special master and adopted in January by a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.

That includes questions about how to balance the interests of creating compact districts against the interests of creating so-called minority-majority districts, meant to protect the voting interests of minority groups.

But those factors should be subordinate to politically neutral criteria and the fact that "gerrymandering for unfair partisan political advantage" would violate the state Constitution.

His stance comes as the deadline for a new congressional map approaches. The high court, he said, did not address that. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, he noted, recently referred to such analysis in a Wisconsin case as "sociological gobbledygook".

The court ordered the state legislature to pass a new map by Friday and have it approved Governor Tom Wolf by February 15. Republican lawmakers have also attacked a state Supreme Court justice as biased in an attempt to get him disqualified; the justice, Wecht, said in court filings that he doesn't feel he needs to recuse himself.

"They didn't answer a lot of the questions I thought they would", he said. In that case, the lower courts had determined that the district was legal. "And if you don't follow these traditional rules, and you don't have an explanation for it, then you're out of bounds", he said. One district was so egregious it was nicknamed "Goofy kicking Donald Duck", because that's exactly what it looked like.

Much of the opinion is devoted to summarizing past case law, the current congressional map, the history of this case, and the testimony of expert witnesses.

"Apparently no one in Pennsylvania knows how to do this", Corman said.

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.

The constitution that served as the basis of the Court's opinion was Pennsylvania's constitution, which contains a "free and equal elections" clause, and pre-dates the U.S. Constitution by ten years.

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Justice Sallie Updyke Mundy wrote in her dissent that the majority opinion is inconsistent with previous case law. In following the court order, it would aim to avoid dividing municipalities and counties. "The problem that I have, and the problem constitutionally, is that they have asserted the sovereign law of authority of the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the legislature", Dush told Matthews, "They have basically taken over a rewrite of the constitution".

The court's ruling sparked a political and legal fight that has grown increasingly nasty, including -. "So we had to go to the courts to get it".

Redistricting expert Jowei Chen of the University of MI testified that he created 500 computer-drawn district maps optimized for Pennsylvania's traditional redistricting criteria of compactness, contiguity and equal population.

Through it all, Republicans have for not releasing its opinion sooner. He said the darkness enveloping the General Assembly requires a more forceful pushback.

By drawing districts in this way, Pennsylvania Republicans "interfere [D] to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage" under the Pennsylvania state Constitution. An empty bill, into which a map could eventually be added, is sitting in the House.

"Because of the reckless delay of this opinion it will be very hard to have a piece of legislation completed before Friday", stated Crompton.

The opinion was released late Wednesday, 16 days after the order was issued and two days before lawmakers' deadline.

Turzai and Scarnati sought the stay, the plaintiffs claimed, as "a ploy to preserve a congressional map that violates Pennsylvania's constitution for one more election cycle".

Reapportionment is due again after the 2020 US Census.

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