The Supreme Court today declined to intervene in a partisan-gerrymandering challenge to Pennsylvania’s federal congressional maps. Justice Samuel Alito, who hears emergency appeals from the geographic district that includes Pennsylvania, rejected requests from Republican legislators and voters to put a ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on hold while they appeal the state court’s finding that the current map resulted from partisan gerrymandering – that is, drawing district lines to favor one political party at the other’s expense. The state supreme court had instructed the state legislature to draw new maps by the end of this week, and the legislators had hoped that the U.S. Supreme Court would block that order.
On January 18, the justices granted a request by Republican legislators in North Carolina to block a ruling by a three-judge federal court that struck down that state’s federal congressional maps as the product of partisan gerrymandering, and the Pennsylvania legislators and voters had hoped for the same result in their case. There is no way to know why the Supreme Court put the North Carolina ruling on hold while refusing to do so in Pennsylvania, but two factors may have contributed to the Pennsylvania denial: The state supreme court relied on the state constitution, of which it (rather than the U.S. Supreme Court) is generally the final arbiter; and the state supreme court has not yet issued an order describing its reasoning in any detail. However, the fact that Alito did not refer the request to the full court, as Chief Justice John Roberts did with the North Carolina case, strongly suggests that he did not view the case as an even remotely close call.
This post was also published on SCOTUSblog.