A panel of federal judges, asked by GOP lawmakers to block the new Pennsylvania congressional map, on Friday questioned whether it should wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to act on a similar request and if blocking the map would further disrupt an already tumultuous election cycle. The three judges — Chief U.S. District Judge Christopher C. Conner for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Judge Kent A. Jordan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and District Judge Jerome B. Simandle for the District of New Jersey — were equally aggressive Friday in questioning both sides in the case during four hours of testimony. They said they would release a decision soon. A group of eight congressmen and two state Senate leaders, all Republicans, are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop implementation of the congressional map imposed last month by the state high court, arguing that the court stole power that the Constitution gives to state lawmakers.
“The U.S. Constitution assigns responsibility for redistricting to the legislature,” Jason Torchinsky, a lawyer for the Republicans, said at the hearing. The justices of the state high court, he said, “don’t get to act as legislators” by creating criteria for how congressional district lines should be drawn and then creating their own map.
Torchinsky and other lawyers for the Republicans argued that the federal judges should reinstate the previous map for the 2018 elections, including the primaries in May and the general election in November.
That would mean holding another election cycle under the 2011 map that was discarded in January, with the state Supreme Court ruling it was a partisan gerrymander drawn to favor Republicans in violation of the state constitution.