Election '18

Trump and GOP Want the Supreme Court to Take on a Major Gerrymandering Battle in Pennsylvania

The GOP is backed into a corner and eyeing desperate measures.

A crystal ball revealing the Republican Party’s future has appeared in Pennsylvania, where top GOP legislators, joined by national Republicans including the president, see their power threatened and are behaving like cornered rats—striking out in all directions.

On Monday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court approved a new map of its 18 House districts to make 2018’s congressional races more competitive. The Court-imposed maps came after the GOP-led state legislature failed to redraw the boundaries under the Court’s criteria, which sought more balanced and representative districts.

By Tuesday, Pennsylvania Republicans, egged on by their Washington counterparts, vowed to file a federal lawsuit—even though the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an earlier appeal by the state's Republicans over the revised congressional maps.

“The suit will highlight the state Supreme Court’s rushed decision that created chaos, confusion, and unnecessary expense in the 2018 election cycle,” a National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman said, adding the GOP will sue “as soon as tomorrow to prevent the new partisan map from taking effect.” 

“Hope Republicans in the Great State of Pennsylvania challenge the new ‘pushed’ Congressional Map, all the way to the [U.S.] Supreme Court, if necessary,” tweeted Trump. “Your Original was correct! Don’t let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!”

The GOP knows that courts are reluctant to interfere in elections; hence its accusation the state's Supreme Court has sown chaos and confusion. They are suggesting that the judicial process in Pennsylvania, which holds 2018 primary elections on May 15, has created a political crisis, when, in fact, “this is perfectly normal procedure,” as James A. Gardner, a University of Buffalo law professor, told the Philadelphia Enquirer.

But local Republicans and their national allies are huffing and puffing the U.S. Supreme Court should intervene, because, in effect, they have lost in state court, failed to produce remedies that would satisfy Pennsylvania’s Constitution, and see the likely outcome: they will be forced to compete fairly and probably lose some seats. The Republicans now hold 13 of the state's House seats, compared to five held by Democrats.

“Make no mistake: this is the PA map Dems wanted,” tweeted David Wasserman, The Cook Political Report’s House analyst and a gerrymandering expert. “It's a ringing endorsement of the 'partisan fairness' doctrine: that parties should be entitled to same proportion of seats as votes. However, in PA (and many states), achieving that requires conscious pro-Dem mapping choices… The result: Dems have a great shot to win 8-11 of PA's 18 seats in November. Under a truly partisan-blind compact map, maybe 7-10. Under old GOP map, maybe 6-9.”

Pennsylvania and Washington Republicans know this. They are throwing everything against the courtroom wall to see what sticks in an effort to postpone the new maps until after the 2018 election. They know Pennsylvania is the only state where congressional maps stood to be redrawn before 2018’s midterms. That’s because other litigation, including appeals now before the U.S. Supreme Court, won’t be decided until later this spring—too late for 2018’s electoral calendar.

What Pennsylvania Republicans are now facing is what the party could be facing in many states if 2018 and 2020 are blue wave elections.

In Pennsylvania, a Democratic governor and majority of state Supreme Court justices dismantled the GOP's political coup—supermajority control through extreme gerrymandering. Nationally, Democrats are hoping to see a wave of new governors elected this fall that could veto bad maps—just as Pennsylvania did.

“The fair map issued by the state Supreme Court is a major victory in the fight against gerrymandering in Pennsylvania and around the country,” said Eric Holder, who leads the Democratic anti-gerrymandering effort. “Republicans all over the country should be on notice; their days of partisan map-rigging are numbered."

“Republicans can complain about [Pennsylvania Supreme Court expert Nate] @persily's map, but here is the rub: the PA GOP had a chance to draw a map most in compliance w/ the court order, but they choose to gerrymander instead by keeping as many people in the same gerrymandered districts as before,” tweeted Michael McDonald, a University of Florida redistricting expert. “If the PA GOP could've done better map than the fair, non-political map that they claim is a Democratic gerrymander, they screwed themselves by not submitting it to the court.”

Pennsylvania’s GOP gambled and lost in its effort to preserve its supermajority House delegation, but that doesn't mean they are going quietly into the night. They are cornered and desperate and are trying everything to delay implementing the state's new congressional map until 2020. They have attacked their state Supreme Court, enlisted the national party and Trump to pressure the U.S. Supreme Court to step in, and refuse to admit their errors.

Stay tuned. What happens next will be a preview of what's to come in other states in the near future, when the GOP can no longer hold onto power by rigging the electoral process.




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Steven Rosenfeld is a senior writing fellow of the Independent Media Institute, where he covers national political issues. He is the author of several books on elections, most recently Democracy Betrayed: How Superdelegates, Redistricting, Party Insiders, and the Electoral College Rigged the 2016 Election (March 2018, Hot Books).