Published On: Wed, Feb 14th, 2018

The governor of Pennsylvania rejects Republicans’ new map

THE best thing that can be said about a new Republican-drawn congressional map for Pennsylvania is that none of the districts resembles a cartoon character. But erasing the lines of a comically gerrymandered district dubbed “Goofy kicking Donald Duck” was not enough to satisfy an order from Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, said Tom Wolf, the state’s Democratic governor, on February 13th. 

When the court ruled on January 22nd that the map in use since 2011 was an extreme partisan gerrymander that violates Pennsylvania’s constitution, it gave legislators until February 9th to send Mr Wolf a fairer map. The redrawn districts, the court advised, should be “composed of compact and contiguous territory” and should not gratuitously divide cities and counties. Curiously, the initial order said nothing about fixing the map’s skew toward Republican candidates, which has afforded their party a reliable 13-to-5 advantage in a state with more registered Democrats than Republicans.

Adhering to the court’s words (in a 139-page opinion made on February 7th) while subverting their spirit, Republican leaders of the Pennsylvania House and Senate set to redrawing the map with no input from Democrats. The resulting map is “prettier”, wrote Sam Wang, a political scientist at Princeton, on the the Princeton Election Consortium, an elections blog, but “conceals ill intent”. In rejecting the proposal, Mr Wolf said in a statement that it “clearly seeks to benefit one political party”. Moon Duchin of Tufts University ran the numbers: “There is no more than a 0.1% chance”, she wrote in a submission to the governor, that a plan meeting the court’s requirements “would have been as favourable to Republicans” as the new map. It is, she concluded, “extremely, and unnecessarily, partisan”.

At the close of a letter in which he berated Republicans for their disingenuous cartography, Mr Wolf extended a hand. “I remain hopeful”, he wrote, “that the General Assembly…can submit a fair map to me for my consideration” before the February 15th deadline. Hours later, two Republican leaders bit that hand. “With all due respect”, they wrote, “your pronouncements are absurd…Quit being coy”. Joseph Scarmatti, president pro tempore of the state Senate, and Mike Turzai, the state House speaker, challenged Mr Wolf to produce a “fair” map of his own for legislators to consider.

With lawmakers and the governor at loggerheads, the court will probably put its plan B in motion: redrawing the map with help from a so-called special master, Nathan Persily of Stanford University. More lawsuits are likely, as Republicans say the court isn’t authorised to redistrict all by itself. But according to Rick Hasen, an elections-law expert, asking federal courts to intervene “would have even less of a chance of success” than the Republican Party’s ill-fated plea to Justice Samuel Alito immediately after the state court struck down the original map. 

Whatever map ends up sticking for the May 15th primary and the November election, it will have a rather brief shelf life. After the 2020 census, legislators in all 50 states will again reshuffle district lines, beginning the squabbling anew.

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The governor of Pennsylvania rejects Republicans’ new map