League of Women Voters v. Com: Congressional Map Violates PA Constitution
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided today in a 4-3 per curiam decision that the congressional map drawn by the General Assembly is too partisan, and must be stricken because it violates the Pennsylvania Constitution. “[T]he Court finds as a matter of law that the Congressional Redistricting Act of 2011 clearly, plainly and palpably violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and, on that sole basis, we hereby strike it as unconstitutional.” The Court then enjoined the map’s use for the upcoming primaries.
The Court will draw a new map “on the evidentiary record developed int he Commonwealth Court” unless the General Assembly and Governor agree to another map on or before February 15, 2018. The Court will allow all parties “the opportunity to be heard” on the new map, and assures everyone that the primaries will go forward as scheduled. In complying with SCOPA’s order, “any congressional districting plan shall consist of: congressional districts composed of compact and contiguous territory; as nearly equal in population as practicable; and which do not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary to ensure equality of population.”
Analysis: “sole basis”
The Court goes out of its way in the per curiam opinion to state that the Pennsylvania Constitution is the sole basis for its ruling. This makes the ruling unappealable, and makes it unlikely that SCOTUS’s ruling in Gill v. Whitford will have any impact on the map in Pennsylvania. If the ruling had merely been that the map was unconstitutional, the ruling could have been appealed unless it could be shown the Court’s ruling was on separate and independent state law grounds. SCOPA was apparently eager to avoid any delay in the implementation of this order, and made clear this ruling is a state law issue, only.
The Court does not elaborate on which provision(s) of the Constitution was violated, and in an unusual step, does not specify that a future opinion is forthcoming. The scant, three-page opinion may be all we ever have to go by in this case.