Can the state Supreme Court choose a map before May?
HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Pennsylvania has an election coming up, but the Commonwealth still doesn’t have new maps to determine which politicians represent which regions. The state Supreme Court heard arguments over the Congressional card on Friday, Feb. 18, just months before the May primary.
The Legislature and Governor Tom Wolf could not agree on how to divide the state into 17 congressional seats. The court now has 13 cards to choose from and they are not happy with it. Judge Kevin Dougherty said: “We are involuntarily forced to be here.”
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“Inevitably there will be people happy with the card, and then there will be people viscerally unhappy,” said Matt Haverstick, attorney for one of the cards.
“It’s a failure on the part of the legislature and their ability to work with the governor. It’s a shame it’s come to this,” added David Thornburgh, Draw the Lines Pa.
None of the 13 cards seem unconstitutional, but a few split Pittsburgh, which bothered some judges. A citizen-drawn map passed by the Republican-controlled House and Senate was vetoed by the governor, but was recommended by the Commonwealth court.
“I think it’s an easy case of slam dunk. We’ve provided a map that’s constitutional, it’s a 9-8 Democratic leaning map that Republicans have made,” Republican State Rep. Seth Grove of York said.
But, critics say he unfairly favors the GOP. “If the court were to choose a map that the governor vetoed, it would seem to me that he is asserting his power over another branch of government, which I think would be problematic,” Thornburgh said.
Rep. Grove adds, “Their problem is they want a gerrymandered Democratic card.”
Judge Kevin Brobson fears it will set a precedent that will see future governors and legislatures push the responsibility for drawing up the map to the state Supreme Court. Oral arguments went on for hours, but little new ground was opened up.
“It’s all been said, but not everyone said it, that’s how I feel,” Thornburgh said.
There are 13 possibilities from which the seven judges can choose. Which will they choose? “They’re in a position where they have to think about the imponderable of the more constitutional,” Haverstick said.
The State Department has testified that it wants to keep the May 17 primary and can maintain the May 17 primary if the Supreme Court acts quickly to fix the mess.