Last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the state’s congressional districting, claiming the boundaries had been unconstitutionally gerrymandered to give the Republican Party an advantage over Democrats, and ordered the legislature to draw up a new district map. So Republican lawmakers did just that — and Democrat governor Tom Wolf has just rejected it.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has the story:
The governor told Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, in a letter Tuesday, that he does not believe their proposed map “meets the demands of the people of Pennsylvania, the Court’s orders and majority opinion, or the Pennsylvania Constitution” […]
The governor, in his letter to the leaders, outlined several concerns with the map proposed by Mr. Scarnati and Mr. Turzai. He said he believes its packs people in densely populated areas into small districts “while having no respect for municipal lines.” He pointed to cities like Reading and Erie and said he believes they are “irrationally connected to rural areas to dilute their interests.”
Mr. Wolf said he believes splitting Montgomery County four times and and splits in the Greater Wilkes-Barre area “are divided up against the Court’s order.”
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Wolf also cited Tufts University professor Moon Duchin, who claimed that the proposed map was far more favorable to Republicans than a computer-drawn map would be, and that there was only a 0.1 percent chance of a map satisfying the court’s conditions being as beneficial to the GOP. However, this raises a question: if computer models are a valid metric for judging the plan, then why aren’t we leaving it up to humans to draw district lines in the first place instead of punching data into a program?
Not that we have any reason whatsoever to doubt the word of a college professor on partisan politics, but Scarnati maintains that the GOP proposal “minimizes split counties and county segments,” “minimizes the number of political subdivisions split,” “contains contiguous districts which are compact,” reduces the number of split counties, municipalities, and precincts; minimizes population deviations, addresses concerns about altering the racial composition of certain districts, “does not pair any incumbent member of Congress seeking re-election in 2018 with any other incumbent member of Congress,” and “retains 68.8% of the populations of existing districts in the same districts, which will help to reduce overall voter confusion.”
What happens if the governor and legislature can’t come to terms?
The court has said it will accept proposals from parties to the lawsuit that sparked the redrawing. It will then draw its own map, or select from or alter one of the proposals, with the help of Stanford University professor Nathaniel Persily, a well-known redistricting expert who has helped courts draw maps in multiple states.
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So who’s right and who’s wrong? I’m not going to pretend to be an authority here, but from looking at the Post-Gazette’s comparison of the status quo to the proposal, the GOP plan looks far more natural and less arbitrary to this layman:
Of course neither party is blameless when it comes to the gerrymandering game. But as TFPP has covered on a few occasions, judges in recent years have grown increasingly aggressive about involving themselves in redistricting on various pretexts. Fairness and impartiality is the stated purpose for intruding on legislatures’ turf, but as we know, far too many courts these days don’t know the first thing about impartiality, and are instead working to subvert the will of the people.
Do you think that’s what’s going on in Pennsylvania? Let us know in the comments below.
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