PA GOP Gerrymandering Blocked In Time For Midterms


The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from a former Republican Congressman who left office in 2019 and was challenging newly imposed Congressional district lines in Pennsylvania. Thus, the districts remain preserved.

The disputed district boundaries were approved by the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court after the GOP-controlled state legislature produced maps to which Democratic Governor Tom Wolf refused to agree, eventually leading to judicial intervention. Because of population loss, Pennsylvania lost a U.S. House district following the 2020 census, but the map to which the state Supreme Court provided its backing kept most voters in their prior districts, which is among the relevant legal considerations in the redistricting process. Previously available information indicated nearly 90 percent of Pennsylvanians would be in their same Congressional districts after the adoption of the new map, which was evidently already used for primaries in the state.

The map originally approved by the legislature included, according to one available tabulation, nine Democratic-leaning districts and eight that leaned towards the Republicans. There is another metric, however, that illustrates some of the problem with the legislature’s lines. Called the efficiency gap, it points to the difference in so-called wasted votes — or, as summarized by Spotlight PA, those that don’t “contribute to a candidate’s victory” — in each election. Under the legislature’s plan, Democrats apparently saw significantly more wasted votes than voters backing Republicans, suggesting those who produced the map eventually passed put Democrats into districts designed to contain their majorities within as few jurisdictions as possible and split them across others. The 6.6 percent efficiency gap favoring Republicans was close to the seven percent gap one of the creators of the metric suggested would indicate gerrymandering, meaning the political manipulation of legislative district lines.

As for the arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court, former GOP Rep. Ryan Costello pushed a version of the independent state legislature theory, per Reuters, which in short consists of the idea that state legislators have nearly unlimited power, at least within their state governments, to set the rules and procedures for federal elections. Accepting such a thing could lead to chaos, ranging from the imposition of increasingly draconian measures around the electoral process to logistical difficulties in even holding state and federal elections at the same time, if the processes for the two dramatically diverge. In a related case from North Carolina that the Court already agreed to hear despite letting the challenged district boundaries be used for primary and general elections this year, that theory is also at issue, with the contention that the state Supreme Court didn’t even have the appropriate legal standing to block any Congressional district map. The North Carolina case closely mirrors Costello’s appeal.