Pennsylvania’s congressional map, as adopted in 2011, violates the state constitution’s guarantee that “elections shall be free and equal,” the state Supreme Court said Wednesday in an opinion explaining its gerrymandering order overturning the map more than two weeks ago. “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. In such circumstances, a “power, civil or military,” to wit, the General Assembly, has in fact “interfere[d] to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.” The opinion came just two days before the deadline for lawmakers to pass a new congressional district map and send it to Gov. Wolf for approval, after the high court declared Pennsylvania’s congressional map an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, drawn to benefit Republicans at Democrats’ expense.
In the opinion, Todd noted a variety of factors that have traditionally played a role in redistricting, such as preserving some previous district lines, protecting incumbent lawmakers, and maintaining a state’s political balance.
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.
Drew Crompton, chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) and the Senate’s top lawyer, said Wednesday that the court’s opinion provided as much clarity as it did raise new questions, namely, how much politics is too much when drawing congressional maps. The high court, he said, did not address that.