WILKES-BARRE — Pennsylvania Senate Republican leaders this week called on the League of Women Voters to withdraw its redistricting case that challenges the state’s congressional map.
State Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, was highly critical of asking to stop the case. He said it “reeks of desperation.”
“The wool they (Republican leaders) pulled over the eyes of Pennsylvanians is about to be lifted,” Mullery said. “Their hand-crafted map of legislative districts, often referred to as one of the most gerrymandered in American history, is virtually impossible to rationally defend.”
Mullery said the GOP map “successfully predetermined” the outcome of elections for nearly a decade, which he said is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“And if there is one thing other than drawing politically-motivated maps that Republican leaders do well, it is count, and they see this case headed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court with its 5-2 Democratic majority for oral arguments on Jan. 17,” Mullery said.
Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, also weighed in on the topic.
“Regardless of what decision the Pennsylvania Supreme Court makes, it’s clear that Democrats and Republicans need to come together and pass redistricting reform,” Yudichak noted.
He has co-sponsored a bill that would establish an independent commission to draw Pennsylvania’s congressional and state legislative district maps.
“It is essential that this legislation is passed before the next round of redistricting occurs after the 2020 Census,” Yudichak said.
Mullery fully supports those who have sued to overturn Pennsylvania’s map.
”I am ready and willing to undertake their suggestion that lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf be allotted two weeks to redraw lines using nonpartisan criteria, then review the map with the help of a court-appointed special master to make additional changes,” Mullery said.
He said Senate Republicans are well aware of the North Carolina federal court ruling circulated Tuesday finding Republicans unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts to ensure Republican domination in that state. He believes Pennsylvania’s Republican leaders fear a similar ruling at home. In North Carolina, the court ordered the state’s General Assembly to redraw maps by Jan. 24.
“Pennsylvania and our nation need a redistricting revolution,” Mullery said. “The plaintiffs in this case, like those in California and North Carolina before them, are leading the charge. The withdrawal request made by the Senate Republican leaders is a last-second Hail Mary pass. I am confident the League of Women Voters will not entertain such an action.”
‘Taxpayers paying hefty price’
Senate Republican leaders issued a news release urging the League to bring an end to the legal case that was filed in June, saying costs to taxpayers have already surpassed $1 million. GOP leaders said if the case is withdrawn, it would allow the Senate’s ongoing examination of reforms to move forward.
The GOP release said the suit was filed by Washington, D.C.-based attorneys on behalf of the League of Women Voters and 18 Pennsylvania petitioners, all of whom are registered as Democrats.
Meanwhile, a panel of federal judges this week effectively upheld the congressional district map in a separate case. The judges said the map’s constitutionality was not for them to decide, according to Philly.com.
But gerrymandering experts quoted in that report said the public shouldn’t “read too much into” the recent ruling because it involves different legal theories than those in contention in the League’s filing.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, a Republican, also made reference to a ruling last month where a state judge recommended the Pennsylvania Supreme Court uphold the map.
“Taxpayers are paying a hefty price for the League of Women Voters’ Washington, D.C., attorneys to argue gerrymandering, when courts have ruled that a partisan advantage is not against well-established federal and state law,” said Scarnati, of Jefferson County. “With a Commonwealth Court judge decision saying that the state’s congressional districts are constitutional, we hope the League and 18 petitioners would spare taxpayers further costs by dropping the case.”
In November, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to hear an expedited argument in the case, setting the stage for a potential decision on the map ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
“As this case heads for the state Supreme Court, the costs to taxpayers only continue to mount,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, of Bellefonte. “We are asking the League of Women Voters and its 18 plaintiffs in the case to be respectful of taxpayers and their hard-earned money.”
The League says the Republican-drawn map violates the state constitution’s protections on freedom of expression and equal protection because it deliberately dilutes the influence of Democratic voters.
In 2012, Republicans won 13 of the state’s 18 congressional seats, and retained most of those seats in 2014 and 2016. The League wants the court to block officials from using the plan in future elections and require the Legislature to draw a new map.
Meanwhile, members of the Senate Republican Caucus have introduced and supported redistricting reform proposals, and a Senate committee will look at redistricting changes in the near future. But all that has been put on hold due to the pending litigation.