One day before the filing deadline for the primary election, the Supreme Court rejected a request by Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania to block a remedial plan adopted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from going into effect. The ruling means that the state’s 2018 congressional elections will likely go forward under the new maps, which could allow Democrats to pick up three or four more of the state’s 18 seats in the House of Representatives – which could in turn increase Democrats’ chances of taking back the House.
This was the second trip for Republican lawmakers to the Supreme Court in the last two months. In early February, they asked the justices to block a ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court so that they could appeal 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. Justice Samuel Alito, who handles emergency appeals from the geographic region that includes Pennsylvania, denied that request on February 5 without even referring it to the full Supreme Court – a move that suggests that he did not regard the case as a particularly meritorious one.
The redistricting dispute then returned to Pennsylvania, where the state supreme court adopted a remedial plan. The Republican lawmakers urged the justices to step in, telling them (among other things) that the state supreme court had violated the Constitution’s elections clause, which gives state legislatures the authority to regulate federal congressional elections. This time Alito referred the request to the full court, but the justices did not act for nearly three weeks; when they finally did take action this afternoon, they issued only a terse one-sentence order, without any recorded dissents. There is no way to know why the court waited so long to rule on the lawmakers’ request, although at least one election law expert has speculated that the justices were waiting for a three-judge district court in Pennsylvania to act on a challenge to the new plan, which it did this afternoon.
This post was also published on SCOTUSblog.