The Lead

National Democrats file new suit asking state courts to draw Pa. congressional map

By: - December 17, 2021 5:08 pm

A Democratic Party-aligned redistricting advocacy group has filed a second lawsuit attempting to force Pennsylvania courts to redraw the commonwealth’s congressional map.

The suit, filed by the National Redistricting Action Fund in Commonwealth Court Friday, argues that time has run out for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled General Assembly to find a compromise on Pennsylvania’s 17 congressional districts.

The state had 18 the last decade, but lost one due to population gains in the other states after the 2020 census. The new population numbers also leave the state’s map malapportioned, unlawful and in need of an immediate redraw, the suit argues.

“It is now clear that Pennsylvania’s political branches will not timely act to pass such a plan, requiring the judiciary to step in,” the filing states.

The group filed a similar suit in Commonwealth Court in April with the same group of 16 voters as plaintiffs. That case was dismissed in October.

But the new suit cites a Department of State legal filing in that earlier case. 

Since this summer, the department has said it needed new maps by Jan. 24, 2022 to implement the maps in time for the May 2022 primary election.

But according to the new lawsuit, the Department of State claimed in a September legal filing that “Pennsylvania’s political branches must enact a congressional plan no later than December 2021.”

Pa. House tweaks congressional map before Christmas, hopes for fresh tidings from Wolf

So far, the state House has picked a map drawn by a longtime redistricting advocate and former GOP county commissioner as its base proposal, which it advanced out of committee this week with some modifications. The state Senate has not yet formally proposed a map, though an early draft leaked last week.

Both chambers have suggested that they would advance their maps in January to meet the Department of State’s earlier stated deadline, and have rejected the need for court intervention.

Jason Gottesman, a spokesperson for the House Republican Caucus, said they weren’t aware of any December deadlines.

“I don’t think anybody involved in cementing these maps has said there’s not enough time,” Gottesman said.

He called for Wolf to come to the table “and have an open discussion as to what a map could look like.”

For his part, Wolf has asked for a compact map that matches the state’s partisan makeup and is responsive to the electorate.  

Last week, his spokesperson said that “the governor will thoroughly review the proposed maps, however on initial review, he has significant concerns about the way they divide clear communities of interest throughout the commonwealth.”

The state Supreme Court, who could end up charged with drawing the map, drew the state’s current congressional boundaries in 2018 after ruling the previous map was an unconstitutional partisan Republican gerrymander. It also drew the state’s map in the 1990s.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.