Tuesday January 30, 2018
This reinforces our view that an independent commission should draw voting districts.
In the past in this space we have likened the 7th Congressional District to a Jackson Pollack painting. The winner of a "name that district" contest in The Washington Post coined the phrase "Goofy Kicking Donald Duck" to describe the district that includes parts of Delaware, Berks, Chester, Montgomery and Lancaster counties.In her op-ed piece in the Jan. 23 New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tina Rosenberg described the district, represented by disgraced Republican Rep. Pat Meehan, as "meandering in a crazed H-like pattern through five counties near Philadelphia." Meehan has decided that he will not seek re-election after reports that he used taxpayer money to settle a former aide's sexual harassment claim.
The state Supreme Court last week used another term to describe the district: unconstitutional.
In its ruling, the state's highest court said "the boundaries clearly, plainly and palpably" violate the state's constitution and blocked the boundaries from remaining in effect for the 2018 elections. The justices gave the Republican-controlled Legislature until Feb. 9 to pass a replacement. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has until Feb. 15 to submit it to the court.
Democrats cheered the decision to toss out a Republican-drawn map used in three general elections going back to 2012. The map, they say, gave Republicans crucial help in securing 13 of 18 seats in a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 5-4. As expected, Republican lawmakers said they are appealing the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, maintaining that drawing district lines is a legislative function and that the state court overreached by ordering the maps changed.
Pennsylvania is one of many state battlegrounds over gerrymandering. Federal judges ruled this month that North Carolina's congressional districts had been unconstitutionally gerrymandered for partisan advantage, a first, The New York Times reported.
Reports of the court's ruling have emphasized its partisan shadings. We'd prefer to think of the ruling as a victory not just for Democrats, but for all Pennsylvanians who vote.
Carol Kuniholm has been on the front lines of this battle for several years.
Kuniholm, chairwoman of Fair Districts PA, said shortly after the court decision was revealed, " we still think that the best solution moving forward is an independent redistricting commission to make sure the Legislature never does this again in the future."
The U.S. Supreme Court has long since decided that gerrymandering based on race was unconstitutional. It may get the chance this year to make a similar determination about politically motivated district drawing.
Meanwhile, we reiterate our position in favor of moving the Fair Districts PA legislation in Harrisburg to avoid these kinds of situations in the future.
We again urge the Pennsylvania Legislature to give voters the opportunity to make the Keystone State the eighth to commission an independent panel to draw congressional districts without attempts to favor one party or another.
As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in a Supreme Court opinion about a Republican challenge to Arizona's commission created by voters, "Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around."
Encouraging development in gerrymandering fight