HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM/AP) — Pennsylvania’s highest court broke a partisan deadlock Wednesday over a new map of congressional districts by selecting boundaries that broadly adhere to the outlines of current districts, even as the state loses one seat because of sluggish population growth.
The Democratic-majority state Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision picked a 17-district map that had been proposed by a group of Democratic-aligned voters who sued last year in an effort to get the court involved.
It is unlikely to create a big shift in the makeup of the congressional delegation, as the state loses a seat, going from 18 to 17, to account for relatively stagnant population growth in census findings over the past decade, particularly in rural white areas predominantly represented by Republicans.
The map provides eight Republican-leaning districts, six Democratic-leaning districts and three closely divided districts, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight, a website that focuses on opinion poll analysis, politics and other topics.
Pennsylvania’s delegation is currently split evenly, nine Republicans and nine Democrats, in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 4 million to 3.4 million.
The court ended up with the decision after Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled Legislature deadlocked on a new plan.
Four of five Democrats on the court formed the majority in Wednesday’s decision, while one Democrat, Justice Debra Todd, sided with the court’s two Republicans in opposing it.
In picking the new map, the justices also rejected a lower court judge’s recommendation of a map backed by Republican lawmakers that Democrats had opposed.
It lumps two Republican incumbents — U.S. Reps. Glenn Thompson and Fred Keller — into a sprawling northern district, and draws two Pittsburgh-area districts where there will be no sitting incumbents running for another term.
The map sides with Republicans on two big issues.
It keeps the city of Pittsburgh in one district, helping maintain a competitive district for Republicans in its suburbs, and it keeps all of Bucks County in one district, helping protect Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick.
However, the map also aides Democrats by ensuring each Democratic incumbent has their own district and keeping the metropolitan Harrisburg area in one district with York, instead of splitting it into several districts, as Republicans had sought.
“Today’s decision by the court was shamefully partisan. In its ruling, the court said elected members of the General Assembly, who are tasked with ensuring the voices of Pennsylvanians are heard, don’t matter. Instead, the court said the National Democratic Redistricting Committee outweighs the voice of the people. The court justices who selected the map bowed to the wants and wishes of their Democratic National Committee handlers,” said State Representative Seth Grove (R-York).
Still, the map will put more pressure on Rep. Susan Wild to get re-elected, drawing the Allentown Democrat’s new district to include conservative Carbon County.
The court also adjusted the petition gathering schedule — starting this Friday going until March 15 — but left the May 17 primary date intact for congressional races and statewide contests.
However, the court on Wednesday also issued an order that suspended the primary election calendar for state legislative candidates, because new state House and Senate maps are being challenged in court.
In response to the selection, Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) and House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin) issued a statement.
“This is not about where lines are drawn or where they could have been drawn. The court has now confirmed once and for all they do not abide by the state and federal Constitutions. Only the map submitted by House and Senate Republicans followed all constitutional guidelines, went through a deliberative legislative process and was endorsed by a judicial body. The process for creating district lines is clearly defined, and even if the governor refused to follow the process, it does not allow the courts to just pick and choose when or when not to follow the law. Sadly, candidates and voters must now submit to a unilateral court that sees itself above every person in our Commonwealth.”
Governor Wolf also released a statement Monday afternoon.
“I am pleased with today’s ruling adopting the so-called ‘Carter Plan’ for congressional redistricting. It is a fair map that will result in a congressional delegation mirroring the citizenry of Pennsylvania. With today’s decision, we could again send to Washington members of Congress elected in districts that are fairly drawn without favor to one party or the other.”
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