REGION—After weeks of intergovernmental infighting over the hotly debated Pennsylvania State Supreme Court decision declaring the 2011 federal congressional district map unconstitutional, the court adopted its finalized plan.
The new voting districts will be in effect for the May 15 primary elections and the general elections held in November.
Should vacancies in the federal House of Representatives occur before the elections take effect, they will be filled according to the districts established by the Redistricting Act of 2011.
In the order accompanying the remedial plan, the court states “This Court recognized that the primary responsibility for drawing congressional districts rested squarely with the legislature, but we also acknowledged that, in the eventuality of the General Assembly not submitting a plan to the Governor, or the Governor not approving the General Assembly’s plan within the time specified, it would fall to this Court expeditiously to adopt a plan based upon the evidentiary record developed in the Commonwealth Court.”
Footnotes in the order state the 18-day period given to the respondents to submit a plan was compiled through arguments made from both the petitioners and respondents.
The petitioners argued a two week period would suffice, the respondents asked for three weeks to a month.
Dissenting opinions to the order were filed by Chief Justice Thomas Saylor and Justices Max Baer and Sallie Updyke Mundy.
Saylor and Mundy filed dissenting opinions to the initial order on January 22, as well. Baer filed a dissenting and concurring opinion to the initial ruling.
“I cannot agree that the Legislature was afforded the time necessary to accomplish the immense task of redistricting in accordance with the criteria imposed by this Court,” said Mundy in her dissenting opinion.
Building on the idea of timeliness in the initial order, Justice Baer stated, “Democracy generally, and legislation specifically, entails elaborate and time-consuming processes. Here, regardless of culpability, the Legislature has been unable to pass a remedial map to place on the Governor’s desk for signature or veto. Under these circumstances, Pennsylvania and federal law permit the use of the existing, albeit unconstitutional, map for one final election.”
Baer further noted his dissent does not reflect upon the court's adopted remedial map.
Saylor's reasons for dissent include: “the submission, within the past few days, of more than a dozen sophisticated redistricting plans; the lack of an opportunity for critical evaluation by all of the parties; the adoption of a judicially created redistricting plan apparently upon advice from a political scientist who has not submitted a report as of record nor appeared as a witness in any court proceeding in this case; and the absence of an adversarial hearing to resolve factual controversies arising in the present remedial phase of this litigation.”
He further states deferment to the judiciary in such a case is unprecedented.
Respondents push back
Following the court's action, respondents Michael Turzai, Speaker of the House, and Joseph Scarnati, Senate President Pro Tempore, filed a request for a stay of the court's order on February 19, as well as the order it issued on February 22 which granted Governor Tom Wolf leave to file a reply to comments regarding his remedial plan made by legislative respondents.
According to Turzai and Scarnati's request, the orders should be stayed “...because (1) the Court’s Orders threaten imminent harm to the 2018 Congressional elections, and (2) this Court’s course of action raises profoundly important questions of federal law under the Elections Clause that will be addressed in the Legislative Respondents’ forthcoming petition for certiorari.”
The court denied the request on February 27 with dissent coming again from Saylor, Baer and Mundy.
Congressional District Changes
Under the old map, established after the 2010 Census and used in the last three general elections, Wayne county was part of the tenth congressional district alongside Pike, Susquehanna, Bradford, Sullivan, Lycoming, Union, Snyder, Mifflin, and Juanita counties in their entirety, and parts of Perry, Montour, Tioga, Lackawanna and Monroe counties.
Lackawanna was split between the 10th and 17th districts, with a sliver of territory tracing a line from Carbondale through Scranton and out the southern and western parts of the county existing in the 17th district and the rest, including Moscow, in the 10th.
According to the new map, the federal representation of Wayne, Pike and Lackawanna counties in their entirety, the northern three-quarters of Monroe County and the eastern half of Luzerne County, is situated in the eighth Congressional district.
In total, the court's adopted map splits only 13 counties of the commonwealth's 67.
Of those 13, four are split three ways and the rest only two, state court papers.
“No district has more than a one-person difference in population from any other district, and, therefore, the Remedial Plan achieves the constitutional guarantee of one person, one vote,” state the court's decision.