Less than three weeks ago, the Supreme Court declined to get involved in a partisan-gerrymandering challenge to Pennsylvania’s federal congressional maps. Today that state’s Republican lawmakers returned to the Supreme Court, asking the justices to block what they characterized as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s “intentional seizure of the redistricting process.”
During their first trip to the Supreme Court earlier this month, Republican lawmakers asked the justices to put a ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on hold while they appealed the state court’s finding that the map violated the Pennsylvania constitution because it was the product of partisan gerrymandering – that is, the Republican-controlled state legislature had drawn it to obtain an advantage over Democrats. But after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to step in, the dispute returned to Pennsylvania, where the state supreme court adopted a remedial plan. That plan, which is slated to go into effect in time for the 2018 elections, could allow Democrats – who currently hold 5 of the state’s 18 congressional seats – to pick up 3 or 4 more seats.
In the latest legal proceedings, Republican legislators argue (as they did in their earlier efforts at the U.S. Supreme Court) that the state supreme court violated the U.S. Constitution’s elections clause, which gives state legislatures authority to regulate federal congressional elections. Among other things, the legislators contend, the state court adopted criteria by which to judge the constitutionality of the congressional districts “from whole cloth,” and it set a schedule to remedy the violations it found that, in essence, it knew legislators would not be able to meet. Unless the court intervenes immediately, the legislators tell the justices, Pennsylvania’s upcoming congressional elections – the primaries are scheduled for May – will not go forward under the map that the state legislature enacted in 2011, creating confusion. Therefore, the legislators conclude, the U.S. Supreme Court should put the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s orders on hold to give the legislators time to seek full Supreme Court review.
The legislators’ request will go to Justice Samuel Alito, who handles emergency appeals from the geographic area that includes Pennsylvania. Alito can rule on the application himself or refer it to the full court. When the legislators came to the justices the first time, Alito denied the application himself – which, although there is no way to be sure, suggests that he saw little merit in the request. The legislators are clearly hoping for a better result this time.