The Lead

Pa. Supreme Court taking second look at congressional map case; orders stay on lower court

By: - January 31, 2022 4:57 pm

The Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg (Capital-Star file)

The state Supreme Court has issued a stay on further action by a lower court on disputed Pennsylvania’s congressional maps until it decides whether to weigh in on it.

The order, backed by five of the court’s seven justices, is the first indication that the Supreme Court and its liberal majority might yet intervene in the mapping process that they’ve largely stayed away from.

Instead, the high court allowed the Commonwealth Court to take on a case asking judges to pick the state’s new congressional map.

The suit, filed in December by the Democratic-aligned National Redistricting Action Fund, argued that the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf could not come to an agreement on a map, and that courts should take over.

Wolf vetoes GOP congressional map, courts to pick Pa.’s redistricting plan

The suit was the group’s second attempt — a first was thrown out in the fall. But with deadlines closing in, and talks between Wolf and the Legislature limited to lobbing academic standards and rhetoric at each other in the press, Commonwealth Court agreed to hear the case.

The court, however, leans right. Judge Patricia McCullough, who is overseeing the case, ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for Supreme Court last year and has sided with conservatives in a number of cases, including on a recent ruling striking down the state’s mail-in ballot law.

Some liberal plaintiffs attempted to get the Supreme Court to bypass the lower appellate bench earlier this month, but the court rejected their effort. 

Instead, McCullough has overseen the case’s proceedings. She set a Jan. 30 deadline for Wolf and the Legislature to reach a compromise, but the two sides failed to do so — Wolf vetoed their map last week.

With the court order Monday, the case will be on hold until the Supreme Court decides to take on picking a map itself, or leave it to Commonwealth Court to take a first crack at it.

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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.