HARRISBURG, Pa. — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a challenge to the new congressional map imposed by Pennsylvania’s high court, assuring that the redrawn lines would be used in the 2018 elections.
The action came hours after a panel of federal judges dismissed a similar suit, saying Republican lawmakers who brought it had not legal standing. With the two decisions — both coming on the eve of the petition-filing deadline for congressional candidates — no legal challenges to the map remain.
The new map lines could have an impact on the makeup of the 2019 Congress, with Democrats hopeful that they could pick up at least a few more seats in Pennsylvania.
The U.S. Supreme Court request for a stay, filed by state Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, was sent to Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who has jurisdiction for cases coming out of the area. Alito, who had previously rejected a similar challenge in the case, referred the request to the whole court, which dismissed it without comment.
In the federal court case, the judges, wrote: “We hold that the federal Elections Clause violations that the Plaintiffs allege are not the Plaintiffs’ to assert.”
They said the court was not in position “to opine on the appropriate balance of power between the Commonwealth’s legislature and judiciary in redistricting matters, and then to pass judgment on the propriety of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s actions under the U.S. Constitution.”
In both challenges rejected Monday, Republican lawmakers argued that the state Supreme Court did not give the legislature enough time to draw a new map and, by imposing its own, violated the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives state legislatures authority over elections.
“I applaud these decisions that will allow the upcoming election to move forward with the new and fair congressional maps,” Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, said in a statement. “The people of Pennsylvania are tired of gerrymandering and the new map corrects past mistakes that created unfair Congressional Districts and attempted to diminish the impact of citizens’ votes.”
The Republicans in the federal lawsuit — eight Pennsylvania congressmen and two state senators — had asked the court to reuse the previous map, adopted in 2011, for one more election cycle while the new map was challenged in the courts.
“The issues presented in this case touch on questions of high importance to our republican form of government. The Plaintiffs’ frustration with the process by which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court implemented its own redistricting map is plain,” the judges said. “But frustration, even frustration emanating from arduous time constraints placed on the legislative process, does not accord the Plaintiffs a right to relief.”
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 3rd Circuit, and District Judge Jerome B. Simandle for the District of New Jersey — all were appointed by Republican presidents and confirmed with bipartisan Senate support.
Both challenges were filed last month by Republican lawmakers who argued that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which has a Democratic majority, overstepped its bounds when it threw out the old congressional map and imposed the new one.
The state Supreme Court had just a month earlier tossed out the previous congressional map, saying it was designed to favor Republicans and violated the state constitution. Under that old map, Republicans won the same 13 out of 18 seats in every race since it was enacted.
The state Supreme Court, in a 4-3 split, set one deadline for the legislature to submit a new map for consideration and another deadline for Democratic Gov. Wolf to review it. Top leaders in the state House and Senate, without taking a vote in their chambers, submitted one map to Wolf, which he rejected.
The state Supreme Court then imposed a new map that many outside experts said still gave Republicans an edge but created more competitive districts and some more districts that are expected to favor Democrats.
In the federal lawsuit, though, the Republican lawmakers did not have standing, the federal judges said. The argument that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stepped on the legislature’s rights should be brought by the General Assembly as an institution, they wrote. Nor do the congressmen have proper standing, they said.
“The Plaintiffs are neither the Pennsylvania General Assembly nor a group to which Pennsylvania has delegated the Commonwealth’s lawmaking power,” the judges wrote. “As far as we can tell on this record, the Elections Clause claims asserted in the verified complaint belong, if they belong to anyone, only to the Pennsylvania General Assembly.”