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Pennsylvania Supreme Court unveils new districts

21 March 2018

The State Supreme Court has until today to come up with a new congressional map for Pennsylvania.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, said in a statement that he applauds the court's work "and I respect their effort to remedy Pennsylvania's unfair and unequal congressional elections".

Moreover, the court-drawn map splits just 13 Pennsylvania counties between multiple districts, fewer than half as many as Republicans' 2011 map. Political experts agree that Democrats stand to gain seats in the House under the revised map, especially in the southeastern part of the state where districts previously had strangely-drawn boundaries but now join urban and moderate suburban areas. The primary election in Pennsylvania will go ahead as planned on May 15, with the general election on November 6.

Pennsylvania's six-year-old map is widely viewed as among the nation's most gerrymandered.

It upends the previous map, with significant changes to where districts are located and the renumbering of several of them.

Republicans appear to face an uphill battle in federal court. The two GOP leaders reported back to the court last week that there was not enough time for the legislature to create a new map, but those leaders submitted their own alternative plan that analysts said would still favor Republican candidates by a 13-to-5 split in outcomes. Of those, four counties are split into three districts and nine are split into two districts.

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"We're going to have a Stanford professor come into Pennsylvania, and he's going to act as the prosecutor by presenting the evidence, he's going to act as the juror by evaluating the evidence, and he exclusively is going to act as a judge by ultimately ruling on the evidence and producing a map - one person - to the court for the people of Pennsylvania to live under", state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said in advance of Monday's announcement. A petition must include the district seat sought by candidates.

Meanwhile, sitting congressmen, dozens of would-be candidates and millions of voters could find themselves in different districts barely a week before they can start circulating petitions to run.

President Trump urged Pennsylvania's GOP Tuesday morning to fight the new map in court with urgency. In a 5-2 decision last month, the state Supreme Court said the map "clearly, plainly and palpably" violated the state's Constitution.

With that avenue blocked, participants in the case scrambled to draw their own map proposals.

GOP leaders have said the lack of guidance is the reason they didn't start drawing a map in earnest until 48 hours before it was due - a decision that left them no time to get a vote from the Legislature.

Michael Morley, a constitutional law professor at Barry University in Florida, said federal courts are normally reluctant to undo a state court decision.

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Republicans now hold 12 of the state's 18 congressional districts, while Democrats control just five.

"I think this is a flawless example of check and balances", Pashinski said.

Pennsylvania's Republican delegation has provided a crucial pillar of support for Republican control of the U.S. House since 2010.

Nonetheless, the new map has been delivered.

Information from the New York Times and Associated Press was used in this report.

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Pennsylvania Supreme Court unveils new districts