Our view: Time for GOP to heed its own words on gerrymandering

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Funny, seems like just a week or so ago state Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati was lamenting the high cost of wrongheaded legal action regarding Pennsylvania’s partisan legislative districts.

The exact words were “Taxpayers are paying a hefty price for … attorneys to argue gerrymandering.” Scarnati, along with Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, insisted the lawsuit — alleging the 2011 redistricting lines violated the state constitution — was a tremendous waste of time and money. The plaintiffs, they suggested, should simply drop the suit and join with Republicans in fixing the redistricting system.

Again, the precise wording is worth repeating: “Instead of working against us, we invite them to participate in our ongoing review of the redistricting process.”

Yet from the moment the state Supreme Court ruled that the 2011 redistricting was unequivocally unconstitutional, Republican leaders became champions of more litigation. Somehow, the notion of working with the opposition to fix the problem evaporated.

The state Supreme Court “set up an impossible deadline that will only introduce chaos in the upcoming Congressional election,” Scarnati said in a statement. “It is clear that with this ruling the Court is attempting to bypass the Constitution and the legislative process and legislate themselves, directly from the bench.”

It’s the old “activist judge” argument, a puff of smoke blown into any debate when a judge rules against your position rather than for it. Note that a judge is never, ever “legislating from the bench” when you like their ruling.

Republicans have vowed to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of the United States, an odd use of taxpayer money from people who until yesterday thought the lawsuit should have been dropped to save taxpayer money.

It’s also an odd move because the ruling is explicit to the state’s constitution, which strongly suggests the federal top court really shouldn’t feel it has any say in this legal dispute.

Make no mistake, the GOP’s contention has some merit. They argue, as Scarnati said, that there just isn’t enough time to redraw the maps before the upcoming primary election. The court ordered the redraw to be done and signed by Gov. Tom Wolf by Feb. 9, so the court itself could approve it by Feb. 15.

It’s not unreasonable to believe SCOTUS would find that a compelling argument. The nine justices could decide that the state high court’s ruling is valid, but that its timeline is too tight to fairly work out by the May 15 primary.

Except that such a ruling would give Republicans one more election using the now-unconstitutional district maps, and that sounds, at the very least, un-American. Rule of law, and all that.

Perhaps the Republicans should heed the advice of a wise statesman from their own party, a man who spoke just a few weeks ago on the same topic:

Instead of working against this change, they are invited to participate in the ongoing review of the redistricting process.

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